No street secrets for fashion photographer Bill Cunningham

NEW YORK - In a past life, he dressed Jackie Kennedy and designed fashionable hats.

Since then, Bill Cunningham has become a living legend of street fashion photography, a discipline he is credited with creating. His passion is still his obsession: capturing the look.

With a watchful eye, a blue workman's shirt worn over his slightly arched back and a camera slung around his neck, Cunningham - at 85 - has the manners and vocabulary of a man of his time.

The New York Times photographer calls anyone "kid," no matter what their age. When you speak to him, he focuses on the question and listens carefully, sometimes cupping his ear.

A step ahead

Rare are the fashion personalities today who - like Cunningham - can boast of always being fashionable, or predict what will be the next craze.

In a 2010 documentary about Cunningham, Anna Wintour - the powerful editor of American Vogue - marveled at his ability to "see something - on the street or on the runway - that completely missed all of us. And in 6 months' time, that will be a trend!"

The discreet man, born in Boston in 1929, "doesn't say much," InStyle magazine editor-at-large Hal Rubinstein told AFP after a spring-summer 2015 show during New York fashion week.

"His wealth of knowledge is absolutely staggering and he is self-effacing. He knows exactly who he is, he is nobody else's guy but his own... It's beyond scholarly."

While Cunningham's decades shooting street fashion have helped him develop an encyclopedic knowledge, the years seem not to have diminished his greatest talent: the art of unearthing major, even avant-garde, trends on the street, on the catwalk or at glittering parties.

An omnipresent figure who often travels by bike, from Fifth Avenue and 57th Street to New York's fashion shows, Cunningham also visits Paris Fashion Week - wrapping up on Wednesday - to "educate the eye."

The intense media scrutiny on Cunningham frustrates him greatly.

In an interview, he told AFP that it "brings too much attention" to his work, and destroys it, in some ways.

An oddity in a world revolving around ego, flamboyance and individuality of style, a world in which starlets and bloggers vie for the limelight, Cunningham only aspires to one thing - being "invisible."

"I let the street talk to me, and that's how you get it," he says.

Cunningham modestly claims he is "not a good photographer." But his work captures pure fashion moments - the elegance of a woman jumping over a puddle of water, or a dandy sporting a hat as he crosses the street.

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