Remembering photographer Bill Eppridge
Legendary Life photographer and master mentor Bill Eppridge, best known for documenting the 1968 presidential campaign of Robert F. Kennedy and his assassination, died Oct. 3, 2013.
A photojournalist habitually works alone, even while surrounded by people. But the mind of the photographer, camera in hand and to eye, is strongly influenced by external sources that seep into the highlights and shadows of the resulting work.
Throughout my career a mob of people have helped or influenced me in ways difficult to describe or calculate – an immeasurable amount when viewing slices of my own body of work.
My high school journalism adviser Susan (Coughenour) Massey. Then Wichita Eagle staff photographer Jeff Tuttle. Kansas State professor Linda Puntney. Orange County (Calif.) Register picture editor Michele Cardon. Former CityTalk editor Dave Wieczorek. There are more names; too many to mention. Some mentored me directly, while others moved through with minimal presence.
But then there is Bill Eppridge. A seminal figure in photojournalism circles, he worked as a staff photographer for Life magazine and later Sports Illustrated. The passionate Eppridge shone a bright light into the depravity of heroin addiction, intimately covered The Beatles, and spent the Apollo 13 crisis in the Lovell household. He shared his visual experiences from Vietnam, Woodstock and nearly any other major event of the 1960s. Most prominently, however, he documented the 1968 presidential campaign of Robert F. Kennedy and his tragic assassination.
Bill Eppridge died Oct. 3, 2013, of complications from an infection. He was 75.
My time with Eppridge was brief but intense. One of 100 participants in the Eddie Adams Workshop, as a member of the Turquoise Team led by the charismatic Eppridge, I was immersed in, and drowned by, photography. It was a photojournalistic overindulgence that, to this day, is hard to untangle and interpret yet its remnants slip into all I do. Looking back I learned more during those exhaustive days and nights, exploring photography and the Roscoe River, with Eppridge and the fellow participants, than semesters of school.
Tears still threaten my eyes as I think of Eppridge presenting his Kennedy work to the workshop. Standing tall before of a barn full of cranky, sleepless, (and likely hung over) photographers, Eppridge spoke eloquently about the Kennedy photographs and his new book, opening up for the first time about the moments that changed him forever.
When Sirhan Sirhan’s fatal gunshots rang out in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel, Eppridge reacted as an experienced photojournalist, like the many professionals we saw after the Boston Marathon bombing. Setting aside his emotions to make the stark, harrowing image of a bloodied Kennedy in the arms of kitchen worker Juan Romero – an image, one of the best known of the ‘60s, that defined a crucial time in American history.
The 1993 book “Robert Kennedy: The Last Campaign” marked the first time he had revisited the images, and the emotions, that had trailed him for the 25 years (at the time) following Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination.
When the 40th anniversary of the death came around, I visited Eppridge in his Connecticut home where he lived with wife and editor Adrienne Aurichio. A part of the 1993 workshop as well, Aurichio had discovered a trove of color photographs from Eppridge’s time with Kennedy for Life. The two created “A Time It Was: Bobby Kennedy in the Sixties,” Eppridge’s epic poem of a book published prior to the anniversary.
“Every day I think about it,” Eppridge said during that 2008 interview for The Baltimore Sun. “Bad dreams go away. … I don’t think nightmares ever do.”
Age: 75, March 20, 1938 – Oct. 3, 2013
Education: Bachelor’s degree in photojournalism, University of Missouri
Career: Photographer for Life magazine where he covered Barbra Streisand in Paris, the 50th anniversary of the Soviet Revolution, the Beatles’ first visit to the U.S., civil unrest in Mississippi and the war in Vietnam; staff photographer for Sports Illustrated; has covered such things as the Olympics and the America’s Cup, the Mount St. Helens eruption and the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.
Awards: 2011 Lucie Award for Achievement in Photojournalism; National Press Photographers Association’s Joseph A. Sprague Memorial Award; The Missouri School of Journalism’s Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service; Twice named NPPA College Photographer of the Year.
Books: The Beatles: Six Days that Changed the World. February 1964 (2014); A Time It Was: Bobby Kennedy in the Sixties (2008); Robert Kennedy: The Last Campaign (1993); provided photographs for Upland Passage: A Field Dog’s Education (1992) and Jake: A Labrador Puppy at Work and Play (1992)