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Remembering Bill Eppridge Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

3 October 2013

He was invisible. And now he's gone. Bill Eppridge, who told his subjects, "I'm not going to ask you to do a thing. I just want to be there," captured history in his camera before passing away today at the age of 75.

He resorted to photography when he realized he could not best his older sister's artistic talents. "I wanted to do something so I could compete with her. So I went to her and asked her to show me how to use a camera," he explained.

He learned well enough to shoot for his high school newspaper and the yearbook. And at 15 became a sports photographer for the Wilmington Star. He graduated from the University of Missouri's journalism school in 1960 where he was named College Photographer of Year.

That led to an internship at LIFE where he shot some of his most famous assignments. He remained with the magazine until it ceased publishing in 1972.

Those assignments, among others, included:

He described McGovern as "a genuine, down-to-earth person, and that's not a quality you associate with many politicians. Not today, and not so much back then, either."

Eppridge's colleagues described him in similar terms, observing that he never thought of himself or his photographs as "a big deal." He was humble, without airs, which was unusual behavior for a big-time photographer. Which he certainly was.

And yet you may never have heard of him. But you've no doubt seen his work.

The most famous of which is his photo of Robert Kennedy lying on the kitchen pantry floor of the Ambassador Hotel, the busboy Juan Romera kneeling beside him only moments after shaking his hand.

'He allowed me to photograph moments that were really true moments.'

In an NPR interview he remembered telling Kennedy what he wanted to do when he was assigned to cover his campaign after previously catching a few shots of the senator with a cigar. "I said, 'I wanna stick right with you,' and he looked at me kinda funny and he says, 'OK, but no cigars, huh?'"

Eppridge was invisible, Kennedy able to ignore him as his campaign for president gathered steam. "He allowed me to photograph moments that were really true moments. Not setups, not photo ops, but just moments that happened, and I loved it."

When Kennedy was shot, Eppridge didn't put down his camera. He knew what he had to do. Capture it for history. He kept shooting even when Ethel Kennedy asked the photographers to leave, never putting the camera up to his eye but shooting from the hip. He was invisible.

And now he's gone. But his photographs will always shed light on history.

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