Bill Eppridge already owned a Kodak Brownie Star Flash 620 camera when one day an itinerant photographer with a pony stopped by his house in Richmond, Virginia and asked to photograph Bill and his younger sister. Eppridge was only eight but it was then that he decided he wanted to be a photographer – he could have a big camera, travel, meet lots of interesting people, and have his own pony. That was just the hint of a lifelong career in photojournalism covering some of the most important people and events in history.
Born in Buenos Aires in 1938, Eppridge spent his early childhood in Virginia, and Tennessee. The family moved to Delaware when he was 14. A self-taught photographer, he began shooting for his school newspaper and yearbook, and then sports for the Wilmington Star newspaper. Eppridge was only fifteen, but this early exposure to a real newsroom gave him a taste for journalism.
Eppridge grew up during World War II looking at Life magazine. He was entranced by the work of their war photographers, and later influenced by Gordon Parks and Leonard McCombe. Their pictures looked effortless, as if they just happened in front of the camera and the photographers grabbed them. It was that style of photography that fascinated him –an entire story was told with one significant image.
In 1960 Eppridge graduated from the University of Missouri, Journalism program headed by Clif Edom who had begun the famous Missouri Photojournalism Workshop with Roy Stryker of the Farm Security Administration. While still a student, Eppridge was accepted into that workshop twice during his college years. He got a career boost when his photograph of a white horse against a tornadic sky won first prize for pictorial in the NPPA Pictures of the Year competition in 1959. He was twice named NPPA College Photographer of the Year and awarded internships at Life magazine.
Eppridge’s first professional assignment after graduation was a nine-month documentary trip around the world for National Geographic magazine. After that, he began shooting for Life. During the year 1964 while on a contract basis with the magazine, Eppridge was there when the Beatles first stepped off the plane in the United States, and chronicled their effect on this country. He spent several days photographing a young Barbra Streisand on the verge of stardom, covered Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan who was to sing at his first Newport Folk Festival, and immediately afterward he was sent to Mississippi where the bodies of slain civil rights workers Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner had been found buried in an earthen dam. Eppridge stayed for several days and photographed the solemn funeral of James Chaney. He soon earned a place on the masthead of Life.
As a Life staff photographer for most of the 1960s, until that magazine folded in 1972, Eppridge worked alongside many of the legends he had admired while growing up – Alfred Eisenstadt, Gordon Parks, Carl Mydans, Ralph Morse, and Larry Burrows.
Eppridge’s unique style of photojournalism brought him history-making assignments – he covered Latin American revolutions, the Vietnam war, and Woodstock. Eppridge was the only photographer admitted into Marilyn Lovell’s home as her husband, Jim, orbited the moon in the crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft. His landmark photographic essay on drug use, “Needle Park- Heroin Addiction” won the National Headliner’s Award. He was given unprecedented access to the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution in Leningrad and photographed the entire Baltic fleet as it was assembled in the Neva River, something that no westerner had ever seen.
One of Eppridge’s most memorable and poignant essays was his coverage of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, first in 1966, and then again on the road with RFK during the 1968 presidential campaign. His photograph of the wounded Senator on the floor of the Ambassador Hotel kitchen seconds after he was shot has been described as a modern Pieta.
After Life ceased publication in 1972, Eppridge joined Sports Illustrated where he continued to use his photojournalist talent to cover both Winter and Summer Olympics; America’s Cup sailing; the environmental disasters of the Mount St. Helen’s volcanic eruption, and the devastating Exxon Valdez oil spill and aftermath. His sporting essays and wildlife photography took him around the world to the Arctic, Africa, Asia, and the Alps.
Eppridge has received some of the highest honors his profession bestows – the NPPA Joseph A. Sprague Award, and The Missouri School of Journalism Medal of Honor. He has been a respected force in training a new generation of photojournalists for more than twenty years at both the Missouri Photojournalism Workshop, and the Eddie Adams Photography Workshop. His photographs have been exhibited at the Smithsonian Museum of American History; The High Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Visa Pour L’Image, and in galleries and museums around the world.
Eppridge currently lives in Western Connecticut with his wife Adrienne and his cat “Bear”. After nearly six decades as a photojournalist he is, even now, never without his camera, and is currently photographing several projects including an essay about the new American farmers – but he still doesn’t own a pony.