Missouri Honor Medalist Bill Eppridge discusses photojournalism, technology

Tuesday, October 20, 2009 | 5:32 p.m. CDT; updated 6:22 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Bill Eppridge spoke at 2 p.m. on Tuesday at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at MU. Eppridge presented photographs from his long career, which included coverage of the Beatles' first U.S. tour, Robert Kennedy's presidential campaign, and a photo essay on heroin use in New York City. Eppridge said that technology makes photographers work harder, but also makes them better photographers.

COLUMBIA — In a 75-minute period, Bill Eppridge used dozens of his photographs to tell a dynamic story of his life in the role as a photojournalist.

As one of this year's seven Missouri Honor Medalists, Eppridge presented "Epic Poem: Fifty Years in Photojournalism."

2009 Missouri Honor Medalists

  •  Mazhar Abbas, defender of press freedom in Pakistan
  • Rance Crain, president of Crain Communications Inc. and editor-in-chief of Advertising Age, Crain's Chicago Business and Crain's New York Business
  • Doug Crews, executive director of Missouri Press Association
  • Bill Eppridge, photojournalist
  • Rod Gelatt, professor emeritus at Missouri School of Journalism
  • Deborah Howell, editor and former Washington Post ombudsman
  • Slate, a daily online magazine

Eppridge began his lecture Tuesday by giving his perspective on photography in today’s world.

"The surge in technology — the blossoming of the Internet, Facebook — has impeded the progress that we are hoping to be making in photographic journalism," he said.

Eppridge’s first professional assignment was for National Geographic magazine soon after graduating from MU. During the nine-month assignment, he shot photos in 11 countries, resulting in 32-page spread for the publication.

The definition of photojournalism, Eppridge said, is similar to that of essay writing because the critical moments of an essay are very nearly the same as the critical moments in a photograph.

“I prefer to tell stories,” Eppridge said.

Throughout his career Eppridge made it known that he never wanted to do the same thing twice, he said.

Eppridge covered Vietnam, Woodstock, the Beatles’ first visit to the U.S. and Barbra Streisand — twice.

“This type of coverage is not allowed now,” Eppridge said about his experiences shooting for Barbra Streisand, in which he said he was allowed to interact with his subject much more directly than public relations directors today would allow.

When Eppridge was assigned to cover Bobby Kennedy just before his campaign for presidency, he was told that he was to tell the story of Kennedy as “his brother’s brother.”

“There was no Secret Service or protection,” Eppridge said. “If I had a question I would ask him myself.”

Eppridge was there, next to Kennedy, on the night he was assassinated. He said the media crew with Kennedy that night had urged him not to go back through the kitchen to exit.

“(Kennedy) was facing one way and we were facing the other,” Eppridge said. The crowd closed in behind Kennedy and soon there were 15 or 20 people between Eppridge and Kennedy.

Eppridge said he’s all over the place, photographing anything that interests him.

“I always carry a camera — you never know,” he said.

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