After witnessing the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, from his Stamford office, Darien native and artist Robert Carley made it his mission to capture the American spirit in photographs of Old Glory in many different forms including a chain-link fence, pick-up truck, surfboard and farm silo. Traveling to 43 states across the country, Carley has been documenting the flag-themed imagery of his red, white and blue subjects for more than a decade.
Highlights of his quest are on view in the exhibition Flags Across America: The Photographs of Robert Carley at the Bruce Museum
in Greenwich, Connecticut. The show celebrates the American flag with approximately 44 photographic prints and a video display of 60 additional photographs, representing more regions of the country than any of his previous displays.
Carleys photographs have been exhibited across the country and have appeared on international websites. Now in his fifties, Carley graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1982 with a double major in political science and fine arts. His inspiration comes from an adventurous spirit, love of travel, and relentless nature to pursue a project in which he believes so deeply.
September 11th changed my life in an unusual way, Carley says. I was an illustrator and artist, but after 9/11, I decided to pick up a camera that I had inherited and focus on documenting tributes to America. Flag tributes to America began to spring up everywhere. Flags sold out and homemade ones were created. The flag came to life in new ways.
Among the images of houses, vehicles, people and objects are many from his home state of Connecticut, including a house in Kent that was among the first to inspire his patriotic passion. The house has since been sold and painted over, but the photographs remain a lasting legacy.
Reflecting on the the significance of his documentary art, Carley says, I realized that I was witnessing a unique and special time in American history. America's resolve and resilient spirit was expressed all over the country when the flag was painted on previously unimaginable objects.
I enjoy the pursuit, the thrill of finding yet another amazing image, he explains. I enjoy driving alone for hours on end on the back roads and off the beaten path where I meet great people and see the country. I enjoy getting lost, because often that's when I stumble upon great images.
One of his favorite memories is of a serendipitous encounter in La Salle, Michigan. After taking many shots of a flag-painted house and then driving away, Carley felt a compelling desire to return to the site to take a few more photos. Within minutes of his return, a flag-attired couple emerged from a van and he had them pose with the house in the background.
I asked them what had brought them here, Carley recalls. Fortunately for me they had just gotten a flat tire!
He says that he willl keep tracking down flag tributes as he hears of them until they have disappeared. This summer he plans to travel to states in the Southwest.
The exhibition Flags Across America: The Photographs of Robert Carley continues at the Bruce Museum through September 22, 2013.