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Tribute to Legendary Photojournalist Bill Eppridge - 1938-2013

By KEN DIXON The New York Times News Service

Bill Eppridge’s shocking 1968 photo of a dying Robert F. Kennedy for Life magazine became an enduring image of the 1960s.

The violence and heroism of Vietnam; Latin American revolutions; the aftermath of murder during the Civil Rights movement; frolicking in the mud at Woodstock; the mop-topped Beatles; even New York drug abusers were subjects for his prolific work.

But it was Eppridge’s charming personality and tenacious professionalism that won him access behind the scenes, from inside Kennedy’s ill-fated presidential campaign to the Beatles’ antic residency at New York’s Plaza Hotel.

Like that June night in a California hotel when an assassin’s bullets tore through Kennedy, Eppridge kept clicking the shutter of his Nikon cameras, piling up images in a career that stretched from his Virginia childhood to his recent hospitalization.

Along the way, millions of readers of National Geographic, Life, Sports Illustrated and other publications were taken to places by Eppridge’s images they never would have otherwise visited. Eppridge’s dedication to teaching the craft resulted in training thousands of young photographers over more than 20 years.

Eppridge, 75, of New Milford, died Thursday at Danbury Hospital after a brief illness, just months before the scheduled release of a collection of previously unpublished photographs, ''The Beatles: Six Days That Changed the World. February, 1964.'' He is survived by his wife, Adrienne Aurichio.

Michelle Monroe, owner of the Santa Fe-based Monroe Gallery of Photography, which is Eppridge’s exclusive gallery, said, ''Bill Eppridge is one of the most accomplished photojournalists of the 20th century and has captured some of the most significant moments in American history: He has covered wars, political campaigns, heroin addiction, the arrival of the Beatles in the United States, Vietnam, Woodstock, the summer and winter Olympics, and perhaps the most dramatic moment of his career _the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles. His most recent passion was to record the disappearance of the American family farm, and he was as passionate about this subject as he was any other.

''It would be difficult to overstate the importance of Bill Eppridge’s visual contribution to American history.''

Born in Buenos Aires on Feb. 20, 1938, William E. Eppridge was a self-taught photographer who, as a 15-year-old, covered sports for the Wilmington Star, a Delaware newspaper, according to the nonprofit Echo Foundation of Charlotte, N.C.

Inspired by the World War II photographs in Life magazine, the immediacy and emotion of photojournalism became his life’s work. While attending the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Eppridge was twice named college photographer of the year and in 1959 was awarded first prize in the National Press Photographers Association contest for a photo of a horse caught beneath a stormy sky. It was around that time he had his first association with Life magazine, obtaining a coveted internship.

After his graduation in 1960, Eppridge embarked on a nine-month world tour for National Geographic, then became a contract photographer for Life. He first followed the Beatles around the country then traveled to Mississippi, where he photographed the funeral of slain civil rights activist James Chaney. He followed Kennedy for two years, developing a personal bond that gave him behind-the-scenes access.

Eppridge became a staff photographer at Life until it closed in 1972, then he moved to Sports Illustrated, where he covered the Olympics and America’s Cup sailing.

In his around-the-world journeys, Eppridge photographed the 1980 Mount St. Helen’s eruption in Washington State and the Exxon Valdez oil spill in March 1989.

For more than 20 years, he trained photographers in the Missouri Photojournalism Workshop and the Eddie Adams Photography Workshop.

His work has been shown in the Smithsonian Museum of American History, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and Visa Pou L’Image in Perpignan, France.

His book on Kennedy, ''A Time It Was – Bobby Kennedy in the Sixties,'' was published by Abrams in 2008. John Ellard Frook, who was the Los Angeles bureau chief for Life from 1968 to 1972, said in a forward to the book that Eppridge and Kennedy ''saw something in each other. They became and remained, if not friends, then familiar and comfortable with one another.''

In a prologue to the book, Eppridge said the tragedy of Kennedy’s death at the hands of Sirhan Sirhan’s .22-caliber handgun remains with him. ''Reporters listen, photographers look,'' Eppridge wrote. ''If you are doing your job seriously as a photojournalist, your sight must be the primary sense that you use at all times.''

He received a career award from the National Press Photographers Association and the Missouri School of Journalism’s medal of honor.


Bill Eppridge/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Senator Robert Kennedy sprawled semiconscious in his own blood on floor after being shot in the brain & neck while busboy Juan Romero tries to comfort him, in kitchen at hotel.



AP Photo/courtesy of Monroe Gallery, Bill Eppridge

This Feb. 7, 1964 photo taken by photojournalist Bill Eppridge and released courtesy of Monroe Gallery shows The Beatles arriving at JFK airport in New York. Eppridge, whose legendary career included capturing images of a mortally wounded Robert Kennedy died Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013 in Danbury, Conn., after a brief illness. He was 75.



AP Photo/courtesy of Monroe Gallery, Bill Eppridge

This 1964 photo taken by Bill Eppridge and released courtesy of Monroe Gallery shows Fannie Lee Chaney, right, and her son Ben Chaney at the funeral for her older son James Earl Chaney, in Meridian, Miss. James Earl Chaney, 21, was one of three American civil rights workers who were murdered during Freedom Summer.



CP PHOTO/CBS Photo Archive/ Bill Eppridge

The Fab Four rehearse before they made music history on The Ed Sullivan Show, February 1964.  When Life magazine photographer Bill Eppridge spent three days with the Beatles in 1964, there was no indication that history was being captured.  (CP PHOTO/CBS Photo Archive-HO)



Copyright Bill Eppridge, Courtesy of Monroe Gallery

White Barn, New Preston, CT 2007.



Copyright Bill Eppridge, Courtesy of Monroe Gallery

Bobby Kennedy campaigns in IN during May of 1968, with various aides and friends: former prizefighter Tony Zale and (right of Kennedy) N.F.L. stars Lamar Lundy, Rosey Grier, and Deacon Jones.



Copyright Bill Eppridge, Courtesy of Monroe Gallery

The Kennedy campaign travels through the Watts section of Los Angeles on the last day before the primary, 1968.



AP Photo/courtesy of the Monroe Gallery, R. David Marks

Monroe Gallery shows photographer Bill Eppridge. Eppridge, whose legendary career included capturing images of a mortally wounded Robert Kennedy died Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013 in Danbury, Conn., after a brief illness. He was 75. His career included stints working for high-profile magazines like Life magazine, Sports Illustrated and National Geographic. He photographed a wide range of subjects, from the Beatles to young people in what was then the U.S.S.R.


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One of the great photojournalists of the 20th century. RIP Bill. Sadly, this highly-skilled profession is under threat from smartphones, citizen journalism and the decline of ad revenue for printed publications.

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