The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The low-down on low brow

By Amy Shaunette

I often joke about being an old man. I talk to strangers, I fall asleep in front of the television and I wear a lot of tweed. But there is one old man in particular I truly admire: Bill Cunningham, fashion photographer extraordinaire. Cunningham is responsible for the most accessible part of the New York Times, the “On the Street” fashion column. Each week, he picks a fashion theme, such as straw fedoras or the color cerulean, and hunts down New Yorkers following the trend. The result is a photo spread and an accompanying online slideshow.

Narrated by Cunningham himself in an adorably creaky old man voice, it’s these videos that won me over. Each slideshow begins with a photograph of Cunningham standing beside his bicycle, camera around his neck. Wearing plain khakis and a blue windbreaker, Cunningham looks like the average 80-year-old man. But he’s anything but average. At the root of Cunningham’s photojournalism is a deep appreciation for the aesthetic. Cunningham appreciates avant-garde fashion that is truly out there: the weirder, the better. In a recent interview with The New Yorker, he said, “I’m looking for something that has beauty. Do’s and don’ts? I don’t think there are any don’ts. What right does one have?”

Cunningham doesn’t really belong in a column about low-culture. First of all, he works for the New York Times, and fashion designer Oscar de la Renta has publicly praised the photographer. “On the Street” has led to friendships with Vogue editor Anna Wintour and countless fashion-forward socialites. He also writes “Evening Hours,” a society column. And in 2008, France’s Minister of Culture awarded Cunningham the title of chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Translation: the French have declared Cunningham a knight of the Order of Arts and Letters. It doesn’t get more high brow than that.

But Cunningham’s enthusiasm for fashion, something so many people disregard as frivolous and shallow, is the same enthusiasm that’s at the heart of low brow appreciation. It’s the idea that when an artistic statement is made, a cultural observer has to listen, regardless of what that statement may be. Cunningham will photograph a red carpet event one day and an anime convention the next. He’s just as impressed by haute couture as he is by mismatched Converse sneakers.

My favorite “On the Street” video is “In the Wind,” from April of 2009. A lively piece on spring coats, “In the Wind” shuffles through photos of New York and Paris women sporting coats-trench coats, raincoats, short jackets. Cunningham is delighted by the variety. He says of one woman, “I saw her eight days in a row and each day she had a different coat, and I couldn’t believe it. They went from 10 years to 30 years old, and they were all spring, just like when I saw her in winter. This lady is a coat collector! She never throws them away. She just reaches back in the closet and-Look at them! They’re absolutely mahhhvelous.” Oh, Bill. You’re marvelous.

View Comments (5)
More to Discover

Comments (5)

All The Mac Weekly Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • B

    Benjamin MitchellSep 11, 2019 at 10:22 am

    some times its a pain in the ass to read what blog owners wrote but this site is very user genial! .

  • O

    Owen ParrSep 10, 2019 at 5:02 am

    What i don’t realize is if truth be told how you’re no longer really much more well-liked than you may be now. You are very intelligent. You already know thus considerably in relation to this subject, made me in my opinion imagine it from numerous varied angles. Its like men and women are not fascinated until it is one thing to accomplish with Lady gaga! Your own stuffs nice. Always take care of it up!

  • J

    Jane CampbellSep 8, 2019 at 3:19 am

    We’re a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community. Your website offered us with valuable information to work on. You have done a formidable job and our entire community will be thankful to you.