Intrepid blue-smocked street photographer Bill Cunningham turned 85 yesterday, and the New York Historical Society marked the occasion with a press preview of an exhibit of his photographs. We dispatched writer Nancy Lazarus—via bicycle, of course—to take in the architectural riches and fashion history of New York through Cunningham’s lens. The show opens to the public today.

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(All photos courtesy New York Historical Society)

billWhile his images don’t depict biblical times, Bill Cunningham did delve back to the Civil War, Victorian era, and Gilded Age for his eight-year-long project, Facades. From 1968-1976, the New York Times photographer who documented social, architecture, and fashion trends collected over 500 outfits and shot more than 1,800 locations around New York City. Editta Sherman, his friend, neighbor and fellow photographer, served as project collaborator and frequent subject.

Cunningham donated 88 black-and-white images from his photo essay to the New York Historical Society in 1976, and 80 gelatin silver prints and enlarged images are on display through June 15. Valerie Paley, NYHS historian and vice president for scholarly programs, curated the exhibit, and she said assistant curator Lilly Tuttle, found the photos in the museum’s archives. “We have so many undiscovered treasures, and we’re delighted to rediscover them,” said Paley.

Although Cunningham wasn’t on hand for yesterday’s preview, Paley said he was enthusiastic about the exhibit and had pitched in to locate details of specific photos. Many of his quotes accompany the exhibit highlights. The display is arranged by historic era, and additional photos in the collection are projected onto the walls of the museum’s side entrance rotunda.
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