“He who seeks beauty will find it.” -Bill Cunningham

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Posted 11 Nov 2011 in observation

I just finished watching Bill Cunningham New York.

I have been reading his column,On the Streets,  in the NY Times Sunday Style section for as long as I can remember, and I see a strong connection between the work he does and the role of documentation from the point of view of an educator inspired by the Reggio Approach. Every Sunday, Cunningham documents a trend that he notices on the streets of NYC–houndstooth, man-skirts, bold-striped shirts. What I love about his work is that he goes out searching for something unseen, something new, but what that something is, is not known. In his words:

“You see, I don’t decide anything, I let the streets speak to me. In order for the streets to speak to me you’ve got to stay out there and see what it is, you just don’t manufacture in your head that skirts at the knee are the thing, and you go out and photograph people’s skirts at the knee. You’ve got to stay on the street and let the street tell you what it is.” -from Bill Cunningham New York

I think this is exactly the same process we encounter when we are documenting an experience with children. You go into it knowing that you are looking for something, a special moment, or an episode or gesture that shows the intelligence of a child, a strategy, or an expression of a relationship, but you never know until you are deeply involved in the experience itself what will emerge, what will be revealed. Without taking time to become immersed, to look, or more importantly to listen, or as Cunningham says, “to stay on the street,” the experience will not speak, and it will easily become a recitation, a regurgitation of what happened.

At the same time, it is important to have a point of view. In Cunningham’s case I think novelty, originality, non-conformity, beauty, style, bravery are lenses through which he captures his images.  “It isn’t really what I think, it’s what I see…suddenly I see something, then I see it again, and I think…ahhh, there’s an idea. And other times I’l see it and I’ll think “wow-that’s an idea” and then I’ll look for it, but I’ll be doing ten other ideas at once.” So entering into this process in the classroom, it is not that as educators we come unbiased, or without a perspective, but it is important to create a balance between having a point of view and being open to seeing.




  1. Jocelyn Khalifa

    I love this, Jen! It speaks a great deal to the power of observation. Thanks!

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