After witnessing the terrorist attacks of Sept. 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. The show, which continues through Sept. 22, 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.
Carley's photographs have been exhibited across the country and have appeared on international websites. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1982 with a double major in political science and fine arts.
"Sept. 11 changed my life in an unusual way," Carley said. "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 flags, including on 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 significance of his documentary art, Carley said, "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. 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, Mich. 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 said. "Fortunately for me, they had just gotten a flat tire."
He said he will keep tracking down flag tributes as he hears of them until they have disappeared. This summer he planned to travel to states in the Southwest.
The gallery at the Bruce Museum, 1 Museum Drive, Greenwich, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is $7, $6 for students up to 22, $6 for seniors and free for members and children under 5. Individual admission is free on Tuesday. For information, call 203-869-0376 or visit www.brucemuseum.org.