Cunningham’s Quiet Crusade

Dan Shaw celebrates NYT photographer Bill Cunningham as “an incognito activist who has celebrated gay pride week after week even as he excused himself from the increasingly sexualized society that he chronicled”:

Two decades after the Stonewall riots, a new strain of homophobia was sweeping the city, and when the “Sunday Styles” section was born in 1992, Bill stealthily took every opportunity he could to bolster the gay community’s morale. Although he was technically a freelancer, he was given unprecedented real estate in the newspaper every week: a half page for his “On the Street” fashion column and two facing half pages for “Evening Hours” party pictures. He was his own boss in the hierarchical newsroom, and he made sure that AIDS benefits received as much coverage as galas at the Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall. …

One of the sexiest “On the Street” columns Bill ever produced was published on Independence Day 1993. The headline read simply: “Men in Skirts.” All of the pictures had been taken at the Pride Parade of buff, bare-chested guys in short kilts and heavy work boots. Bill wrote the caption: “The imagery brought to mind ancient warriors depicted in Greek and Roman sculpture, now reflected in the gym-perfected bodies of today’s generation. The look reveals how a generation that worships the body perceives its image as that of the Uber-male.”

The recent documentary made about Cunningham is available for streaming on Netflix.