Art: Bill Carner has left the building
Retiring ‘photo wrangler’ picks his favorites
Bill Carner had been at his job in the Photographic Archives for 34 years until his December retirement. That’s so impressive, it had to be italicized, since it’s almost unheard of in today’s work environment.
“I’ve had the best job in the world, or so I’m often told,” Carner says. “It’s certainly been the best job in the world for me. It fit me like a glove. I’ve been delighted and enlightened by what I’ve seen in the files and what I’ve learned …”
In celebration of his well-loved job, the self-titled “photo wrangler” put 40 of his personal favorites in an exhibition. Carner explains that a “curator should be invisible, but not this time. This is autobiographic, a very personal show.”
Photos in the show range in time from the 1874 Timothy O’Sullivan “Shoshone Falls” to the 2009 Steve Plattner “Window Framing the View from Meteor Crater.”
Dividing the space into walls of portraits, sensuality, “people who meant the most to me,” general favorites, and Kentucky, Carner had a lot of material to work with. Included are masters of photography, such as Alfred Stieglitz, celebrities (Graham Nash, Marilyn Monroe, Kurt Vonnegut) and Farm Security Administration images (FSA head Roy Stryker gifted his personal collection to the Photo Archives).
He’s not kidding when he says he has “eclectic tastes.” Just a few of his favorite photographers are Garry Winograd, Henri Cartier-Bresson (“simply the best in my book”) and Stern Bramson of Louisville’s Royal Photo Studio.
Of Bramson’s 1959 image “Stocking the Cooler, Little Sisters of the Poor Good Mother Home for the Aged,” Carner jokingly says it “never fails to have nuns in a photo. Plus, each of the three beers brewed in Louisville at that time are in the picture.”
He also likes photographs “from where I’m from,” meaning the Reading, Pa., area. The 1945 image “The Bar at the Shartlesville Hotel” by Sol Libsohn is a blast from the past for Carner. “This photo was made when the trucker (Libsohn) was riding with stopped to treat him to a big homestyle Pennsylvania Dutch meal … 10 years later, I was eating big Dutch Sunday dinners there with my parents; 15 years after that, I was drinking beer in country hotel bars like this with these guys or their sons.”
If Carner could walk out the door with a photograph, what would he take? He confesses he would like to own “The Wooden Bowl” by Maureen Lambray, photographed in 1993. “I’d seen Lambray’s book ‘The American Film Director’ back in 1977 just before I came to Louisville and loved it. Years later, the Photo Archives had the opportunity to acquire … this stunning photo.”
As of March, Carner will be living in Paris for three months. “My co-workers are worried about me leaving and taking the ‘institutional memory’ with me,” he says. “I’ve told them not to worry, I’ll have a 900 number if they have any questions.”