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Famed Photographer Bill Cunningham's Views of 1970s NYC Put On Show

By Gustavo Solis | March 12, 2014 7:47am
 The exhibit shows 88 photographs taken over an eight-year period in which Cunningham photographed women wearing vintage dresses in New York City's architectural sites.
Bill Cunningham: Facades
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Bill Cunningham's photo collection at the New York Historical Society is getting another showing — nearly 40 years after it first went on display.

In 1976, a still-emerging Cunningham donated 88 pictures to the museum, drawn from an eight-year project. The  captured models wearing vintage dresses juxtaposed against some of the city's landmarks as well as gritty settings, including the Guggenheim Museum and a graffiti-covered subway train.

The photos were put on display in 1976, but curator Valerie Paley said, “It was a small exhibit" that only merited a brief mention in the New York Times.

Since then, the pictures have been stored away in the museum's archives, while Cunningham went on to become an internationally recognized fashion photographer and New York City's graffiti was largely washed away.

Now Cunningham's collection will go on display again in the exhibit: Bill Cunningham: Facades, which opens Thursday and is intended to give patrons a chance to see a snapshot of city history.

When Cunningham took the photos in the 1970s, New York City was in a municipal financial crisis that brought a violent crime wave and an active drug trade. The era also produced a lot of creativity with artists and musicians creating new forms of expression, Paley said.

“It’s something you can take in a couple of different levels,” Paley said of the exhibit. “What we have now is the benefit of time for reflection. We can take a longer view.”

The original 1976 exhibit allowed people to reflect on certain landmarks and their importance to the city. This show allows them to see how much it has changed, Paley said.

“What an incredible thing to reflect on,” she said.