Bill Ray was born in the village of Shelby, Nebraska, population 617, in l936, near the geographic center of the United States. His mother and brother are recognized regional artists. Bill’s interest in photography was developed by the time he was 12, when he enrolled in classes at the Joslyn Museum in Omaha. His career began the day after he graduated from (high school with a job on the Lincoln Journal & Star, and continued while he attended the University.
During this time, he covered a group of disgruntled Detroit families, known as the “59ers”, who drove to Alaska to homestead; the national visit of Nikita Khruschev; Elvis Presley leaving for Germany; Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday” to JFK; and countless celebrities of the time.
In l960, Bill worked on eight films with legendary cinéma vérité filmmakers D. A. Pennebaker and Richard Leacock.
In l963, he moved to LA, working out of the Life Beverly Hills bureau. Here he covered movie stars, including Natalie Wood and Ingrid Bergman, as well as the Alaskan earthquake, the richest man in Japan, and the Viet Nam war. He joined Life staff in 1964. From the Paris bureau in l968 to l970, he covered everything from Paris fashion to Jackie Kennedy’s wedding to Aristotle Onassis, travel in Turkey, and wildlife in Ethiopia.
After the demise of Life Magazine in l972, Bill photographed many patent models for a book, The Art of Invention, which was written by his wife, Marlys. He photographed many Fortune 500 Corporate Annual Reports, 46 covers for Newsweek, which included Pavarotti, Itzhak Perlman, Horowitz and Zubin Mehta, and Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan; he worked for Fortune, Smithsonian, and Archaeology magazines. Bill went through the Straits of Magellan with historian Samuel Eliot Morison. He traveled the world for eight months with Carl Sagan doing the stills for the TV series “Cosmos”.
His book jackets include Cosmos, by Carl Sagan, historians Will and Ariel Durant’s series, Connie Ryan’s Longest Day, The Word’s Gotten Out by Willard R. Espy, and the cover and several inside pictures for the new edition of The Decoration of Houses by Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman, Jr.
Bill’s work is included in The Best of Life, Ronald Reagan, A Life in Pictures, Elvis, A Celebration in Pictures, Life in the 60’s, The Best of Smithsonian, Great Magazine Covers, by Patricia Kery, Rolling Stone Images of Rock & Roll by Anthony De Curtis, and Hollywood Babylon, by Kenneth Anger. One chapter is devoted to his interview and his work at Life Magazine in Life Photographers: What They Saw by John Loengard. His work is included in The Great Life Photographers, Bullfinch Press, 2004.