A few days after the tragic Dec. 14 shootings in Newtown, photographer Robert Carley was driving near Monroe looking for photos to take to mark the event.
The Darien resident, who took more than 30,000 photographs in 42 states remembering 9/11, said it's not often that he gets emotional taking pictures, but there was one last December that shook him up.
"I saw a teddy bear strapped to a telephone pole and it really hit me," said Carley, who will be exhibiting 200 photos tied to the Newtown tragedy, beginning Sunday, Dec. 1, at the Monroe Public Library. "It was the first picture from Newtown I took."
The exhibit in bordering Monroe will be one of three in the state, all featuring Carley's photographs of personal memorials erected in memory of the shooting victims.
Carley, 55, visited Newtown more than 25 times after that first day; most of his visits were within two months of the incident.
His photographs of 9/11 were iconic -- appearing in several periodicals. One of his pictures from ground zero is in New York Magazine's online encyclopedia of 9/11. And his photos of Newtown, taken with a Nikon D-80 camera, also tell an important story.
Among those 4,000-plus images, the majority show crosses and doves, as they were the top two symbols people chose to use in their memorials. A spiritual man, Carley said the symbol of the cross was a comfort to not only him, but also to many of those connected to the tragedy.
In November he was still deciding which 200 of his photos to exhibit. He'd shied away from taking pictures of families who lost loved ones in the tragedy, or were injured, because it was too emotional, he said. "The ones I am choosing for my exhibits show faith and love."
Aside from working as a photographer, Carley has acting experience as an extra. He has appeared as a photographer in hit television shows such as "Blue Bloods," "Gossip Girl" and "White Collar."
When capturing his photos, he uses both digital and film cameras. While 90 percent of his pictures were taken in Newtown -- a 45-minute drive from his Darien home -- one he is most proud of was taken on the grounds of a cemetery in Everett, Mass. There he found 26 white crosses made with ribbons. Twelve were small pink ribbons for the number of girls killed, eight were blue ribbons for the number of boys killed, and six were large pink ribbons for the adults -- all women -- who were killed on Dec. 14, 2012.
Carley also took a picture of Tom Murray, the cemetery groundskeeper who had a picture of his son, Matthew, tattooed on his arm. It was Murray's idea to erect the 26 crosses.
"My son was shot and killed 10 days before his first birthday," Murray said, explaining the 26 crosses. "I was crying the whole time with every pound of the hammer. I was thinking of all of the kids and the teachers. I know what they went through."
Because of his son's death, Murray said he and his wife "started to help others, whether the homeless, walking for cancer or walking for AIDS."
While Carley likes to give credit to the subjects of his photos, he isn't always able to do so. There was one picture of carved wooden roses that he took over and over again in Newtown. He'd like to say who created them, but can't, because he doesn't know. Read Full Article
"I kept coming back taking pictures," he said. "It was the most artistic and touching tribute, and there was a poem underneath about the victims."
Carley found it difficult to grapple with what happened.
"I think of the Bible and the story of Job. Job kept his faith even though he lost his 10 children. You can't give up and die; you must move on. You need to appreciate every day you have," he said.
Southbury-based artist David Merrill, who worked with Carley on many 9/11 photo projects, said, "He's very sensitive and does very good work. He portrays his subjects very well and knows how to use his equipment."
Robert Storace is a freelance writer; firstname.lastname@example.org