On June 25, beloved and prolific fashion photographer Bill Cunningham passed away, leaving an unmatched legacy. For nearly 40 years, Mr. Cunningham snapped photos on the streets of New York City for The New York Times and his subjects ranged from Fashion Week models to everyday commuters.  


Looking back on Mr. Cunningham’s vast body of work, it’s shocking to see how the landscape of street fashion photography has shifted since he first began capturing the outfits of everyday people in the 70s. While he was essentially a constant in Manhattan, riding his signature bicycle through Midtown as he documented changing styles day in and day out, it’s unlikely that there will ever be another photographer to fill the niche. Not only would it be surprising to see another demonstrate the consistency and passion that Mr. Cunningham did, but the platforms on which fashion photography is shared have become so accessible and community-driven that a single man photographing outfits on Broadway won’t make much of an impact.


These days, street fashion photography comes less in the form of a Times column and much more in hashtags, inspiration albums, and online fashion communities. We live in a time when photos of all styles from around the globe can be accessed with a few simple keystrokes, and any willing person can share outfit pictures with the entire world, New York Times staff position not required. People no longer rely on photographers to capture their looks, but instead photograph and promote their own content, sharing on Instagram apk, Tumblr, or a whole host of internet forums. This dynamic results in photographs and albums created by the subjects themselves. There is no smiling man on a bicycle behind the camera, but the spirit of the photography is the same — real people celebrating and sharing what they actually wear out in the world.


This is not to say that Bill Cunningham will not be sorely missed or that his work was unimportant in any way. His decades-long chronicle of the spirit of New York City won’t be going anywhere. In fact, Mr. Cunningham really paved the way for the internet users who share their own outfit photos for all to enjoy. Without the unique and groundbreaking snapshots of common people, not models or celebrities, the fashion photography available for us to browse might still be confined to fashion shows and brand lookbooks. Bill Cunningham might be gone and his specific brand of photography might be a thing of the past, but the organic spirit of his street-focused shots is certainly still here. In a 2002 essay for the Times, Mr. Cunningham wrote, “I never go out with a preconceived idea. I let the street speak to me.” Thankfully, by the end of his life, he hadn’t only shared the street’s voice with the world — he also taught the street how to speak for itself.


Have you ever enjoyed any of Bill Cunningham’s photos, or has he taken your picture? Tell me here or on Twitter @BillChangNY