UofL’s ‘Photo Wrangler’ Curates Final Exhibit

For Bill Carner, it’s been a decades-long career surrounded in nostalgia — black and white photos, often, of a Louisville that may be forgotten without the visual evidence he’s spent a career collecting.

Carner is ending a 35-year run as the curator — or, as he’s called, “photo wrangler” — for the University of Louisville Photographic Archives. To celebrate, the exhibit “Bill Carner’s Swan Song: A Final Curatorial Exercise” will open Thursday and run through Jan. 25 at U of L’s Ekstrom Library.

In producing the exhibit, Carner gathered favorite photographs from friends and colleagues that have inspired him and contributed to his own development as a photographer. Carner speaks of each image in the collection with warmth and recollection.

“It’s an homage to some of my friends and some of my favorite photographers,” Carner said. “I put together an exhibit of around 40 really great photographs to look at. I think people will enjoy it. I know I’m enjoying putting it together.”

Carner applied for his position at the University of Louisville while completing his Masters degree. He moved to Louisville from Reddington, Pa., to enroll in the Center for Photographic Studies ,where C.J. Pressma became his mentor.

Carner went on to develop relationships with other prominent Louisville photographers. 

For example,  Carner met Stern Bramson in the 1980s after Courier-Journal Publisher Barry Bingham made a donation of photos from the Royal Photo Company — a Louisville commercial photo company founded in 1904 — to the University of Louisville Archives. Carner said of his relationship with Bramson, “We had a splendid time, a real nice ride.” A photo taken by Bramson appears in the exhibit. The picture shows a nun in a walk in cooler stocked with locally brewed beer.

“I had to put something in there for Stern,” Carner said.

Carner described how he came by some of the photos in the archive: 

“Steve Cohen had a gallery in Los Angeles. Back in the mid eighties he started coming around. He was like a peddler going up in the mountains. He had a trunk full of photographs . . . and we would buy some photos. It was like having the salesman come to your farm up in the holler. He would tell you what was going on in the world out there beyond where you were. He would inform us what was happening in the photographic art world. It was always fun to see him and fun to see some photographs. We had a little money and we could buy one or two and that kept him coming back and the stories kept coming and we got some beautiful work from him.” 

The personal narratives behind each photograph bring the exhibit seemingly to life. Carner elevates his exhibit beyond simply cataloging a career in photos — he reminds the viewer how photographs capture memories, friendships and inspiration. 

A reception begins at 5 p.m. Thursday in the lower level of Ekstrom Library. Photographers featured in the exhibit include August Sander, Guy Mendes, David Plowden, Danny Lyon, among many others.

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