Life magazine staff photographer Bill Eppridge took probably the most remembered photograph of wounded Sen. Robert F. Kennedy prone in a pool of blood on the floor of the Ambassador Hotel pantry. In the black-and-white Eppridge photo, busboy Juan Romero looks up stricken in disbelief. Kennedy had just won the Democratic primary for president in California when he was fatally shot on June 5, 1968. Eppridge died Thursday in a hospital in Connecticut. He was 75. From the New York Times:
Mr. Eppridge, a staff photographer for Life magazine, stood his ground that night in 1968 and photographed the senator as he lay on the kitchen floor of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, going into what he described to NPR in a 2008 interview as a “state of mental overdrive” where he worked on instinct.
“I know it was the right thing to do,” he said in that interview. “I think that that kind of a situation has got to be documented, it has to be told, and it has to be told to people who do not understand the horrors that we can face.”
As a photographer for Life from the early 1960s until its closing as a weekly magazine in 1972, he covered many of the most important stories of the time, including the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, Senator Kennedy’s presidential campaign and Woodstock. His intimate photo essay that followed the lives of two young drug addicts in New York broke new ground in the genre. After his tenure at Life ended in 1972, he became a staff photographer for Sports Illustrated.
The assassination affected Mr. Eppridge profoundly, according to Karen Mullarkey, a friend who worked with him at Life and was the director of photography at Sports Illustrated when Mr. Eppridge worked there.
“Bill was fun and silly, wonderful and open and he had a joyful eye,” she said. “But a piece of him died that night. Never to be recovered.”
Eppridge was to say later "at that point my profession changed. I became a historian.”
Life.com today posted a tribute to Eppridge with the photo and others from his career:
[The photo] is not only the most recognized and most frequently reproduced picture from that night, but one of the most chilling, signature images of the 1960s. As a historical document, it’s indispensable. As a photograph, it’s astonishing: made in an instant, Eppridge’s picture possesses the immediacy of great photojournalism, while somehow conveying the totemic sense — especially in its interplay of (barely perceptible) light and (profound) dark — one sometimes encounters in portraits by the Old Masters.
Rembrandt himself, one imagines, might have felt a kinship with the tone, the lighting, the bleak intensity of the scene.
Photo credit: Bill Eppridge/Time and Life Pictures/Getty Images