Three things Bill Murray can teach you about Street Photography
A man walks up to a couple at a restaurant, takes one of their french fries right from the table, eats it, looks them directly in the eye and says: “No one will ever believe you”. That man, is Bill Murray.
This is just one of the thousands of stories out there that exist about the legend, the myth, that is Bill Murray. Popping up all over the country and even the world, spreading his joy and love of life with others in countless, seemingly random encounters. For a long time almost all of those stories were just rumors on the internet or whispers heard from a friend of a friend of friend, but thanks to a new documentary, "The Bill Murray Stories: Life lessons learned from a mythical man", that ties all those encounters together, we now know that Bill Murray is indeed the man of legend that he was always purported to be.
While watching this documentary which featured one of my life-long best friends (yes, I was one of the people in this world that heard the legend direct from a friend), I sat there in complete awe of Mr. Murray and the way he has chosen to lead his life in recent years. It felt so closely tied to exactly how I think a great street photographer should walk out into the world everyday and it made me think of three very important things every street photographer could learn from Bill Murray.
Go with the flow
Bill Murray exudes the worldly care-freeness of a man that has all the answers but doesn’t care about what they are. He is nothing if not the definition of “going with the flow” and that is the first rule of street photography: going wherever your intuition, the street or the universe may take you. The Flow.
William Eggleston, one of the masters of early American street photography, said: “I only ever take one picture of one thing. Literally. Never two. So then that picture is taken and then the next one is waiting somewhere else.” I love that notion so much, that your next picture is waiting for you somewhere else. How damn exciting is that?
William Eggleston captured the mundane with the most vivid feeling and then moved on
I, myself, have spent many days heading out with my camera, so desperate to find that “perfect” thing or person to photograph, forcing it and forcing it, only to come home with nothing but average photos that I try to convince myself, are something great. I learned very quickly, that if I ever head out with that intention, then I have already done it all wrong. There are amazing things out there waiting to be captured, but your only job is to be ready when they are presented to you and to go with the flow until they are.
Street photography takes nothing if not patience. Just because you are going with the flow, doesn’t mean that you are going to capture gold every single time you go out shooting, but if you don’t go out ready to be taken by the tide of the unknown and excited about wherever it leads you, you are assured to never strike gold.
Be in the moment
Not only does the Legendary Bill Murray follow the wind on a hunch or let the waft of delicious smell lead him into a strangers backyard BBQ, but when he gets to wherever it is he’s going, he is always THERE.
All of Bill’s various, wonderful and mysterious worldwide entanglements, comes with a man totally immersed in the present situation. He lives in the moment and outside of that one thing, nothing else in the world matters to him, which gives it so much more weight, sincerity and honesty. He allows himself to be wrapped up in the people and places around him and see it for what it is right then and there and you should strive for the same when looking through that little window.
A great street photograph does not start when you click the shutter, but way before that, in the scene that encompasses that moment. It begins when you walk into that space and you get a sense of its presence. The smells, the sounds, the colors, the people or lack thereof, the way it makes you feel and what you focus on to show that feeling to the rest of the world. That oneness, that feeling of being, that every great street photo holds for the person that connects to it, is because you were in the moment when you were there and it is felt like a wave coming through your image.
If you are asking yourself, “Isn’t going with the flow the exact same thing as being in the moment?”, then you wouldn’t be the first, but you also need to know there’s a definite difference and that difference, means everything when it comes to being a great street photographer.
Going with the flow and being in the moment are two completely separate things. The flow gets you to the moment and it is your duty as a street photographer, once you are there, to take in that entire scene and show it back to the world in it’s most beautiful and unique state. Be immersed. Be interested. Be empathetic. Be there.
It seems that everyone that Bill encounters along his way, is made better for the experience. He uses his celebrity in the best way possible, to bring people joy. He allows fans to take tons of photos with him, signs anything within arms reach, jumps in engagement photos, does karaoke, washes dishes, dances with party goers and the list goes on and on. He uses his celebrity to show that he is a normal guy and that there is beauty in everyone he meets and everyone he meets feels that and is touched by it.
This, I believe, is the greatest thing any street photographer can take away from the life of Bill Murray, giving back to those around you and bringing out the beauty in the everyday.
One of my all time favorite street photographers, Rui Palha (@rui_palha), from Portugal, takes this to a very personal level. He is very well known and loved by his community and the world, because he exists as part of it and is keeping its memory alive. He gets to know all his subjects by name and makes the brilliant effort of bringing that photo or portrait he took, back to them, if at all possible, a couple days or weeks later, and shows them the beauty he captured and thanks them for their time and their memory.
I was so overwhelmed by the realization and gratitude of this form of street photography through Rui, that I followed suit not more than a month after first learning of how he works and it was one of the best experiences of my photographic career.
I had the privilege of being shown at a photo exhibit that featured the world famous classical Italian jazz guitarist, Alberto Negroni, playing live music for the evening. Being an exhibit featuring photographers, I naturally brought my camera with me and ended up capturing Alberto showing his craft through the strings of a beautiful guitar. I was so moved by his performance and presence, that before I left, I introduced myself and got his information and went home that night to get my print ready.
I contacted him the next morning, quite to his surprise, and caught him a few hours before he was due to fly back to Italy, to give him his print. We agreed to meet up and I once again had the chance to photograph him, but this time it was after he had just seen a portrait of himself playing guitar the previous evening and he was so happy and so grateful. You couldn’t wipe the smile off either of our faces if you tried and it was in that instant, that I knew I was on the right track and that memory will live forever in my heart.
There are so many ways a street photographer can give back, whether it be by showing someone their true beauty, making someone on the street smile or lending a helping hand while on the scene, or preserving the memory of a people or place. Just being there for good and not just for shameless self promotion, is really the key.
The French photographer, known simply as “J.R.”, does this better than almost anyone out there, and it is this frame of mind that makes his work so incredible and inspiring. He takes a highly customized van all through the countryside and gets to know the people of towns and villages across the country. With this van, that is essentially a large moving photobooth, he takes pictures of their smiling, warm faces and makes giant prints on the spot and glues them to the walls of their hometown, for all of them to see and be in wonderment of, for all time. J.R. makes the “everyday man and woman”, feel special, important, a part of something bigger and isn’t that really the point of what we are trying to capture?
There is actually a documentary about J.R.'s work called: “Faces/Places”, and I HIGHLY recommend you watch it as soon as possible. You may be moved to tears and it might make you rethink how you photograph, just like it did for me.
I’m sure there are a million other things we can learn from the life of such an extraordinary human being as Bill Murray, but when it comes to street photography, these three are the most important.
Don’t force your photos, go with the flow.
Don’t use your subjects, be in the moment with them.
Don’t just take a photo, give back with that photo and more than anything….
...Be like Bill.