The late Bill Cunningham didn’t dress like fashion royalty. But he was the only person at my first New York Fashion Week who had me starstruck.

As the veteran New York Times photographer who championed street style as a genre, it’s understandable that Cunningham had me—a young photographer and fashion blogger—in awe. Decades before fashion blogs and photo projects like Humans of New York, Cunningham started a mini-revolution in fashion by photographing what people were wearing on the street instead of focusing solely on the runway.

“I’m not interested in celebrity,” Cunningham said in 2014. “If someone is wearing something terrific, that's what I want to photograph.”

It was this approach that made me fall in love with Cunningham’s work years ago. Traditional fashion images, depicting idealized bodies wearing idealized clothes in idealized settings, often seem disconnected from the real world. Cunningham’s street style photography did the opposite—it celebrated clothing as real people actually wore it while going about their daily lives. “I just loved to see wonderfully dressed women, and I still do. That’s all there is to it,” he once wrote.

Cunningham was one of my first fashion heroes. Whenever I felt uncertain about how to work in the industry with my morals intact, I remembered the humble, perpetually smiling octogenarian biking around Manhattan with a camera around his neck. Cunningham didn’t lament what was wrong with fashion imagery—he simply created an alternative option. Cunningham’s simple habit of celebrating fashion as it worked in the lives of real people sparked a revolution in the way the entire industry ...

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