Bill Cunningham, street photography and freedom in freelancing

“Bill Cunningham’s on the Street: Five Decades of Iconic Photography” goes on sale Tuesday. This book will soon be among my photography books.

This The New York Times remembrance of the Cunningham and his contributions to street and fashion photography includes colorful stories that reveal traits that made him both a talented artist devoted to doing what he loved and a difficult personality who apparently could drive editors to drink. As someone who has tested the patience of editors to pursue a story, to interview the right source, to not interview a hack, I delight in knowing that.

I also admire his independence; his unwillingness to be an employee after freelancing for several years is something I can relate to.

It’s important, when we are young professionals, to work for other people and big employers. I wish I’d been more aware of that as I started my journalism career, it wouldn’t have taken me this long to allow those experiences to sink in and to learn from them.

As I’ve gotten older, however, especially after about a decade of freelancing, I’ve realized I’m simply not built or interested in working for a corporation, an organization or an institution.
Some days, the freedom to run my life as I see fit is liberating and exciting. I do what I want, pretty much whenever I want. That includes taking assignments I want and not taking others because I want to take an afternoon to take a training, run errands, see an exhibit.
Other days, that freedom is frightening. I’m still learning to prioritize my time and tasks. I’m my safety net, I’m my only 401 (K), and, at the moment, access to a good health insurance policy is prohibitive. I often have to remind myself how lucky I am to be healthy.
Now and then I’ll take a moment to remember that many don’t have the freedom I have, that, to some degree, I’ve had the privilege to make that choice. That that freedom, which in my case includes roaming the back roads of Texas taking photographs on a workday and taking a leap of faith to make a documentary film, is priceless and demands a high level of responsibility and a strong work ethic.
Cunningham understood that.

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