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Fashion photographer Cunningham's 'Facades' on display

| Thursday, March 20, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

NEW YORK — Bill Cunningham is a familiar presence on the social and fashion pages of The New York Times, and the streets of New York City, riding a bicycle with a small camera bag strapped to his waist.

But long before his images of street fashion became a regular newspaper feature, Cunningham spent eight years, from 1968 to 1976, working on a whimsical photo essay of models in period costumes posing against historic sites of the same vintage.

Astride his bike, he searched secondhand shops for antique clothing and looked for architectural sites across the city to create the perfect tableaux, many of which featured his muse and fellow photographer, Editta Sherman.

The result was “Facades,” a book published in 1978.

Now, nearly all of the 88 gelatin silver prints from the series, which Cunningham donated to the New York Historical Society, are featured in an exhibition there. “Bill Cunningham: Facades” runs through June 15.

“I don't think he ever thought of it as a fashion project,” said the show's curator, Valerie Paley. “It's more a social, architectural and fashion history of the city. ... He saw the grace of old architecture, the lines and the architectural integrity.”

But while Cunningham may not have been making a statement about preservation, said Paley, “he certainly was seeing beauty where others weren't seeing it.”

“I'm crazy about fashion and I'm mad about architecture,” the 85-year-old photographer said at the exhibition opening. “It was all here in New York City.”

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