How did a community react after 12/14, what photographer Robert Carley calls “one of the most senseless, gruesome, and evil acts in American history”? Makeshift memorials of angels, crosses, flowers, doves, banners etc were all created to help grieving citizens cope in the aftermath of a national tragedy.
Mr Carley has captured Newtown’s response, with moving images of hope that sprang up right after the shooting. He documented what he calls “artistic expressions of grief,” traveling throughout Connecticut, and even to New Jersey, the Bronx, Philadelphia, central PA, and Boston to photograph everything he saw.
Three exhibitions taking place simultaneously in Connecticut will present many of those images. “Newtown’s One Year Anniversary, Tragedy and Tributes … Photographs of Hope” will be presented in the Main Concourse of the Legislative Office Building, 300 Capitol Avenue in Hartford, December 4-31; at Monroe Public Library, 7 Fan Hill Road, December 1-31; and Danbury Public Library, 170 Main Street, December 9-23.
The Hartford show will include 120 of Mr Carley’s photographs. It will have its opening reception on Friday, December 13, at noon.
The Monroe show will include 50 photographs, and will have its reception — with special guest David Merrill — on Saturday, December 14, from 2:30 to 3:30 pm.
The Danbury show, with 25 photographs on view, will also have its reception on December 14, beginning at 4:30 pm.
Previously, Mr Carley traveled to 42 states after 9/11 to photograph flag tributes that were created to honor those victims. (He was recently honored with a one-man show at The Bruce Museum in Greenwich.) Soon after the events of 9/11, flags sold out so people resorted to creating their own Stars and Stripes from whatever materials inspired them. The Newtown massacre and 9/11 both took place in close proximity to Mr Carley’s home in Darien.
“Every day after December 14th, I drove up to Newtown and witnessed the tidal wave of teddy bears, angels, and crosses as well as other gifts of sympathy that flooded the town,” he said. “I photographed the touching banners and signs that were erected all over town to console and encourage the townspeople. These were not the store made Hallmark variety, but powerful and beautiful expressions. All of the spontaneous tributes, wooden angels, crosses etc. reminded me of what happened right after September 11th.
“I was inspired by the creativity and heartfelt emotion that went into creating these images,” he continued. “One man made 26 crosses and placed them on a huge plywood heart in front of his home. My exhibit depicts symbols of compassion and the resilient spirit in the aftermath of a great evil. Last December, just like after September 11th, the nation experienced a short-lived unity.”
Mr Carley called 12/14 “Newtown’s 9/11.” He photographed a newly inked 12/14 tattoo on the hand of a cashier after being handed a coffee. Around the same time, he was photographing a telephone pole that had “several colorful, uplifting signs” attached to it when a police officer asked him to move on.
“I realized that I was taking photos near a church school,” Mr Carley said.
Another day, driving to the center of town, Mr Carley spotted a sign by the side of the road advertising a free cup of coffee at a deli.
“I’m glad I stopped by because inside covering the walls were dozens of children’s drawings of hearts from all over the world,” he said. “I took photos of the walls and later photos of beautiful ribbons covering trees that a person at the deli told me about. I kept experiencing from the people of Newtown a generous spirit.”