COMPLETELY FRAMED: Inclined to spend 10 hours outdoors each day shooting and to cover 16 or 17 parties a week, New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham amassed a slew of photographs.
Nearly three years after the photographer’s death at the age of 87, his friends Steven Stolman and former coworker John Kurdewan offered a slide show celebration of his life Wednesday night at the Museum of the City of New York. Along with the runway shots and on-the-town party pictures, there were numerous images of the always-smiling street photographer on and off duty.
Stolman said The Times is doing “an extraordinary retrospective coffee table book,” which is due out this fall. “Bill Cunningham: On the Street: Five Decades of Iconic Photography” is set to be published by Clarkson Potter on September 3. Meanwhile, Kurdewan has an “amazing collection of memorabilia, personal photographs, letters, Post-it notes and other keepsakes from working with Cunningham that would make for a compelling story, Stolman said. The photographer’s archives prior to 1993 are owned by his family, and those post-1993 belong to The Times, he added. His total estate reportedly was valued at $4 million.
Wednesday’s crowd also saw photos of Cunningham’s sparse loft where boxes of files and contact sheets were the main decor. Flashing photos of Cunningham clowning around with relatives, and Bert and Lorraine Geiger and the fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez’s family photos, Kurdewan mentioned how the lensman’s nephew, Joe Bird, built him a room above his garage for his Boston getaways. Stolman added, “So now we know he had love in his life, he had a beach house and he died with $3 million in the bank. He didn’t bill himself like that.”
Stolman said afterward, “I hope that the takeaway from this talk is that people realize that Bill was very, very clever at creating this carefully crafted persona, as a defense mechanism. Contrary to what we all think, we all think that we knew about him, that he lived this monk-like existence, that he was this loner, that he didn’t have a lot of money….He had love in his life. He had many, many friends and he had money so he was quite successful in creating that persona.”
Wednesday was also the release date of Stolman’s sixth book, “Betty Kuhner: The American Family Portrait,” which he coauthored with the photographer’s daughter, Kate. Stolman said, “Betty created the genre of the environmental family portrait — that picture taken outdoors in black and white with everyone dressed in a white shirt and jeans. The reason that style of photography exists today and is the standard for every engagement photo is because of Betty. In the late Sixties and early Seventies, she said, ‘I am sick and tired of seeing everyone dressed for church in front of the fireplace in the living room. I want to get them outside.’”