Goodbye Mr. Cunningham

During the fall of 2009 while an intern on the NYTimes multimedia desk, I was asked by director Richard Press to film a few b-roll scenes for his film Bill Cunningham New York. Richard had told me that Bill did not prefer to be in front of the camera and would be elusive. While acknowledging Richard’s caution, I felt confident because Bill and I had built a rapport that summer as our desks were only 10 feet apart. He would often stop by my desk and say “Hey there young fella,” and we’d briefly talk about our days.

            One of the two shoots I was asked to film happened on the night that Bill received a Living Landmark award from the New York Landmarks Conservancy at the Cipriani Restaurant. Richard had emphasized he wanted to capture Bill arriving at the restaurant on his bike. I staked outside the restaurant at least an hour before I thought he’d arrive. Mr. Cunningham snuck up behind me, but I was able to capture him walking in to the restaurant. I kept rolling throughout the night, capturing him talking photos of people, talking to old friends and acquaintances and then of course when he received his award. When dinner was served, Bill refused to sit with the rest of the crowd and opted to sit in the media section all by himself.

            As I was filming eating he called me over and said, “Why don’t you sit down and eat young fella?” Before I could answer Bill called over a waiter and asked him to bring me a plate of food and to get me a coke. Soon thereafter my plate of steak, potatoes and string beans had arrived. Bill noticed I didn’t touch my steak and I explained to him I was a vegetarian. He immediately tilted his plate and put all of his vegetables on to mine and took the steak of my plate. He then asked the waiter to bring me another coke. After we finished eating, Bill continued photographing people as I filmed him.

            As the event came to a close, Mr. Cunningham came up to me as I was packing my camera gear. He asked me how I was getting home and I told him I was hopping on the 4 or 5 back to Brooklyn. He shook his head and said that I should hop in a cab with all my expensive equipment. He then took out $40 and told me to pay him back only when I got reimbursed for the cab ride.

            The next morning I put $40 on his desk and wrote a thank you note. After coming back from a shoot later that day, I noticed my $40 had been put back on my desk and Mr. Cunningham wrote me a note saying that there was no rush to pay him back and I could do it when I had gotten reimbursed. I waited until I was reimbursed for the cab ride and about three weeks later I proudly put the money back on his desk with another thank you note. This time, he accepted the money.

            Goodbye, Bill. Your kindness, generosity and humility are unmatched.



Next semester I'll be TA'ing (alongside a couple of my classmates) an intro journalism class called Digital Narratives w/ R.B. Brenner and Robert Quigley at UT's Journalism school. They're giving us a lot of latitude to shape the class and teach storytelling methods we think are relevant to journalism now and in the future. I'm spending a few days teaching students how to tell stories with different hardware/software. I spent this past evening putting together some simple sensors. Below is a photo of an alcohol sensor that triggers a light and a piezo speaker when alcohol gas levels hit a certain threshold. Learning how to use the Arduino software/hardware platform really helped me have a better understanding of how stuff works and as a result made me curious about all the gadgets I come in contact with (how do thermostats work? How does wireless work? etc.) Though it's a quick few days with the Arduino, I'm hope the students come away with similar questions.  

Going Analog

Though I've been filming and photographing with dSLRs for a while now, I've never taken film photos. So, over this past winter break I purchased an Olympus OM-1 camera with some lenses from Goodwill's auction site. The camera was preserved in excellent condition by its original owner whose name is still on the leather case. I did some digging online and it appears he passed away in 2004. His son passed away in December 2014 and I imagine this camera found its way to Goodwill shortly thereafter. 

Shooting film photos was a very different experience for me than taking digital photos or video. I'm usually working on a tight deadline when filming/photographing with my dSLR and as a result it's become more of a work tool than a toy. I found myself leisurely capturing the 36 exposure over the course of 4 weeks with the OM-1, hoping I didn't completely screw up the shot. Pressing the shutter release is very gratifying as the OM-1 shakes slightly each time you capture a scene. Below are a few of the exposures from my first roll.