New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham passed away yesterday. He tirelessly captured fashion on the streets for decades. You can see Bill’s “On the Street” videos for the Timeshere, which feature his photos and his observations on what he photographed.
For learn more about Bill, read his Times obituary here, New Yorker theater critic Hilton Als on Bill’s discerning eye here, and New York art critic Jerry Saltz on how Bill was the “quintessential American photographer of modern life” here. There’s also a fascinating documentary about him called Bill Cunningham New York (affiliate link here), which I reviewed for a documentary film magazine in 2010, and republished in the early days of my blog back in 2011 (read the review here). The film was an intriguing look at a very private man who eschewed the spotlight and was far more interested in photographing everyday people, not celebrities. Though he did photograph big names in fashion.
Here’s a screenshot from one of the Times videos on YouTube showing his photos of people in their Easter Parade finery.
And here’s the full video of the Easter Parade – so many fun hats (!!!) – from vintage to wildly creative (look for the frying pan hat with fried eggs at 1:16, I’m not kidding!).
You can binge watch more than 100 “On the Street with Bill Cunningham” videos here.
He’s been the inspiration for my “street style” photos, which are a feature of my newsletter, which you can see here. If you’d like to subscribe to my newsletter, just fill out the form on the right (just below my profile photo) or go to the sign-up page here.
I like to do my own fashion stalking – though I’m not so obvious about it as Bill is. I take my photos surreptitiously using my iPhone. Heheh.
RIP Bill. We will miss your great eye for fashion and style.
I’ve never worked with a photographer to shoot anything I’ve made. It was either me with my iPhone, friends, or my husband with a point-and-shoot digital camera. But this time I’d be working with a professional photographer – Susie Biehler, a fine art photographer who graciously agreed to take photos of me in exchange for a handmade top. (To see how I found a photographer, read this post.) Here’s what happened on my first fashion photo shoot for a dress I made using the Elizabeth Gathered-Waist Dress pattern from the book BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern.
You may have read in an earlier post that I entered this dress in the BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern contest. I had never entered a sewing contest before but I knew that good photography would be important to present the dress to its best advantage.
We arranged to meet at the San Francisco landmark, the Palace of Fine Arts, which has a theater, rotunda, lake, and plenty of trees. Susie visited the location earlier in the week to see what the lighting would be like at 9 am. Though it had rained earlier that week, it was bright and sunny that Saturday morning. The temperature was in the 50s so it wasn’t very warm but it was bearable even though I was wearing a sleeveless dress.
I live in Berkeley so it would take me at least a half hour to get there, so I needed to change into my dress at the location. I didn’t want it to get wrinkled. You can read here about how I prepared for the photo shoot.
It was easy to find parking before 9 am in the morning. We met in person for the first time — and then walked around to the back of the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre among some trees and I changed there. Susie kept an eye out for morning joggers and I quickly unbuttoned my cardigan and slipped the dress over my head. Then I shimmied out of my jeans, put on my high heeled shoes, and was ready to go.
Every evening that week I was up really late sewing so I hadn’t really given much thought to how I would pose. I have very little experience modeling (I once posed in an outfit for a retail store in an informal shoot) but I know that I’m really not very patient and that I don’t have a repertoire of facial expressions or poses.
I thought that having a prop would be one way I could compensate for my lack of experience. It would give me something to do with my hands. So I ordered a black-and-white full-size umbrella on Amazon.
I told the photographer that my goal was to show the dress to its best advantage. I also had had conversations with my work colleague Cailan who had attended fashion school. She has suggested that I wear high-heeled shoes, telling me they would provide some height and would make a big difference in the photos. She was right – I didn’t take any photos with the low-heeled shoes.
We began with me posting with the umbrella open and and then closed. I stood in an area where the sun streamed in between the columns and began smiling and posing, trying to keep my arms relaxed. I didn’t want to look stiff. We took photos there until we began losing light. Susie also pointed out that the open umbrella may overwhelm the dress so we didn’t take any more pictures with it open.
We left that area and walked along the paved path along the lake with the fountain in the background. Though we took a few shots there, Susie said the sun was getting too bright there. So we then moved to an area that had a bit of shade and took shots standing near a bench.
Then Susie suggested that I sit on the top of the bench back with my feet on the bench. I liked those photos. Then we moved over to a tree and took photos of me holding the dress out to show off the crinoline and full skirt.
I quickly ran out of poses and I couldn’t think of what other views I needed other than front, side, and back. It probably didn’t help that I was tired. I’d had less than six hours of sleep the night before and that entire week I’d been up until 4 am nearly every night working on the dress (I could only work on it when I got home from work). After about an hour, we were done. I couldn’t think of any other view to shoot.
To see the photos I uploaded to my BurdaStyle project page for the sewing contest, go here. All the photos on this page are ones that I didn’t post to that page.
Though Susie is not a fashion photographer, she did a very nice job. I also learned a lot from this experience. On the drive back home I thought of other things that would have been helpful. Here’s my list:
Create a shot list – write down every possible shot you want so you don’t forget anything, for example, Full-length Views: Front/Back/Side/three-quarter; Bodice: Front/Back/Side; Details: Gathering at waistline; Invisible zipper; crinoline.
Bring along a friend who can act as your stylist and tell you when some part of the dress is off because of your pose or let you know when your hair or makeup needs fixing. It’s hard to do it all by yourself.
Look at some fashion magazines and get some ideas for poses. Search online for model poses. I didn’t have any time to do this because all my energy was focused on finishing the dress. Modeling is a skill — and unless you’re a natural at it, you should do some research and practice before a shoot. Otherwise, you’ll end up looking awkward and have a stiff expressions on your face.
I was going to write about the photo shoot for my dress but then I started getting into all the details of what happened before the shoot began. So I’ll write about the shoot another day and just focus on my experience preparing for a fashion photo shoot. OK — I admit that sounds rather fancy — it was just me, my dress, and a photographer shooting outside on a sunny day in San Francisco, not an elaborate setup (no stylist, photographer’s assistant, or hair and makeup person!).
The photo shoot was on a Saturday morning and the night before I was still sewing! Yep, I was adding those last nitty gritty dress details — such as the bra strap holders at the shoulders and hand sewing the Bemberg lining at the waist — and I still had to make the crinoline! Yep, I was up until 3 am — so much for getting my so-called beauty rest beforehand! That was not what I had planned but things just took longer because, 1. A week before the contest deadline I changed my mind on which dress I was going to make and 2. I could only work on it after I got home from work.
I knew I wouldn’t be very alert the next day so I packed up nearly everything I would take with me the night before: Two pairs of black shoes (one low heeled and one high heeled), my new black-and-white umbrella that I bought for the shoot, and a needle and thread and scissors just in case. Then I set aside the veiled black straw vintage hat and hat pin I would wear and I laid out a cardigan sweater, jeans, and nude tights I would wear on the way to San Francisco. (I got that great hat last year at All Things Vintage in Oakland.)
I live in Berkeley and I had at least a 30-minute drive ahead of me so I planned on changing into the dress when I got there. The dress and crinoline were on a hanger and I put a dry cleaning bag around them so they would be protected and ready to go.
Then the following morning I needed to put on some makeup, do my hair and put on my hat. I don’t usually wear a lot of makeup so earlier that week, I went to Macy’s in Union Square on my lunch break and asked the makeup person at the Bobbi Brown counter to give me a lesson in eye makeup. I already had some Bobbi Brown eye shadow and I needed to get more eye liner. I got some good tips — start by putting the eye shadow near the lashline and work your way up — and felt a little more comfortable about doing my makeup.
I put on some foundation, which I usually don’t wear but I bought some at a drug store a year or so ago when I had my husband take some photos of me wearing some of my hats. I think you’re supposed to throw out makeup that’s more than a year old but hey, I’d hardly used any of it. So I did put on concealer, foundation, bronzer, eye shadow, eye liner, lip liner, and bright red lipstick. I couldn’t quite disguise the dark circles under my eyes but I couldn’t get to sleep any earlier.
For my hair, I made a small ponytail on top that I could stick my hat pin into and I gathered the rest of my hair into a bigger ponytail. I clipped a black fabric rose to the elastic. Then I put my veiled vintage black straw hat on and stuck my hat pin through the back. (Yes, hat pins do have a purpose!)
Then I put my lipstick, concealer, and Q-tips in my purse and I was ready to leave. My next post will be about the actual photo shoot. To see the photos I posted to BurdaStyle, check out my project page.
I knew that if I wanted to enter the BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern contest, it would be a good idea to find someone to photograph my dress. My husband has taken pictures of me wearing various hats or outfits but what usually happens is that I get impatient with posing, he gets impatient with taking photos (“OK, is that enough?”), and then we don’t get all the shots I really need. Plus he gets annoyed at my digital camera, which is too small for his hands (hubby is a big guy – 6′ 3″). So here’s what I learned about finding a photographer to shoot your outfit.
Search engines can be very helpful. I searched “fashion photographer San Francisco” and sent emails to about a dozen local photographers. Though I knew I couldn’t pay someone to photograph me, I could offer a trade, a hand-sewn top or something else, such as a custom-made tote bag. Because most of my experience is sewing women’s clothes so I mostly contacted women photographers. For the male photographers I offered to make a tote bag or something for a woman friend.
I began my search around the last week of January so I was cutting it a bit close. At that point, I had picked out my fabric but I hadn’t done any sewing yet. Photos needed to be uploaded to my BurdaStyle project page by February 15. So my time was running short, in my emails I told the photographers that I wanted to do the photo shoot sometime between Februrary 5 and 14 and that I could come to their studio or we could shoot outside, whatever was easiest for them.
I also mentioned that they would retain ownership of the photos and that all I wanted was digital files to post on BurdaStyle and on my blog. I also said that I would write about the photographer in my blog.
I got responses from most of the people I emailed. One was interested but sick and wasn’t sure she’d be well enough in time to do the photo shoot, another was going to be out of town during my dates, a few photographers said they couldn’t do it for trade because that was how they made their living. One photographer told me that her rate was $400/hour (yeah, way outta my nonexistent budget!). And the rest just didn’t respond.
After a few days, I realized I needed to explore another option — asking people I knew if they knew any photographers who might be willing to shoot for trade. I sent emails to a couple likely friends and here’s where I got lucky.
One lovely friend of mine works on a community newspaper and she passed along the contact information for a couple photographers, one female and one male. I emailed the woman first and later that day she told me she was interested! She told me she was available on the morning of February 9 and that we could shoot in San Francisco, perhaps among the trees in the Presidio, which was near her home.
That photographer was Susie Biehler, who’s a fine art photographer and shoots these really striking photographs of water and nature. (Check out her beautiful work here.) She wasn’t a fashion photographer but she told me that she’d done some fashion shots and new store openings for the community newspaper. I figured that she knew plenty about light and she was willing to do it in exchange for a hand-sewn top, so of course, I hired her.
The week of the photo shoot, she suggested that we shoot at the Palace of Fine Arts, a beautiful San Francisco landmark that was made famous by Alfred Hitchcock in the film Vertigo. The photo on this page is an outtake. Tomorrow I’ll be posting about the photo shoot.