Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Robert Carley noticed that people became more patriotic, hanging American flags in their yards, flying them from their vehicles, waving them in their hands and even wearing them.
As the years pass, the desire to display the flag does not seem to have waned, Carley said, with people painting flags on houses, buildings, fences, rocks, trucks, cars and anything in between. Something about the enormity of the attacks on the United States seemed to have permanently altered the nation's relationship with its flag.
Observing this, the Darien native and Stamford resident began capturing images of Old Glory on film, as a means of documenting America's ability to stand together in the face of tragedy.
"There's never been an outpouring of love of country and using the flags to show that," Carley said, while sitting in the Bruce Museum, where his pictures are being shown. "People put flags up in the past, but not on houses and cars."
Though Carley originally snapped the photos locally, but his subject matter soon drew him farther away, to any state where he heard about a display. So far, he's hit 43 states and amassed a collection of 30,000 photographs.
"I can't believe I'm still taking 9/11 flag tributes 12 years later," said Carley. "But to me, it never gets old. I'm amazed at the variety of flag creations. Whatever you can think of, it's been turned into an American flag."
The items on which people paint flags runs the gamut. A Florida lifeguard station, a Ridgefield church, a Norwalk dollar store, pizza boxes from a New Haven restaurant. A chain-link fence, a surfboard, milk containers and rooftops. And lots of vehicles: a Corvette, Corvair, Porsche, cement mixer, septic tank truck, pick-up truck a hot-air balloon.
Thirty of his photographic prints -- and a slide show of about 80 more -- are featured in the exhibit, "Flags Across America: The Photographs of Robert Carley," through Sept. 22, at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich.
A visitor to the Bruce Museum last weekend, Loretta Tularzko, of Irvington, N.Y., said, "I think they're fantastic. I can't get over the shots. They're from all over, and what a great thing to do."
Tularzko said she especially liked the photos of flags depicted rippling in the wind. "It gives me chills," she said.
Last Saturday, Carley was recovering from a 4,000-mile road trip to Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Delaware, where he was taking more pictures of his beloved flags. The seven-day trip was his most extensive.
Before he hits the road, Carley said he prepares by calling police and fire departments, post offices, libraries and other local institutions, to see if they know of any interesting flag depictions. Some of the best ones are those he stumbles upon by chance, he said.
As Carley shuffled through a pile of recent photos, he said he still loves finding a house that's painted entirely like an American flag.
"I've taken about 18 flag houses across the country," he said. "That's my favorite thing to photograph. To me that's the ultimate tribute."
Along with the houses, Carley said he likes seeing the country and meeting people along the way.
"It's just amazing the characters you meet," he said. "It's fun to talk to them. You meet eccentric, interesting people."
His decision to document this period in history makes sense, given that he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a double major in fine arts and political science.
"I love Americana," he said. "I love politics. I love meeting political figures."
Walking through the exhibit, Carley remembers the circumstance of every photo, explaining the photos on display, including a flag painted on a silo near Dover Air Force in Delaware, where pilots can see it overhead, or a barn in New York that he saw in the newspaper.
One of his favorites is a couple standing in front of a flag-painted house in Michigan. He hadn't planned for the couple to be there. He found the house, and as he was setting up to photograph it, and the couple just showed up. Their car had broken down and it was Independence Day, so they were decked out in flag-themed clothing.
"It was July 4th and they broke down in front of the house," he said.
Another of his favorite photos is a homefront in Kent, painted like a flag. The owner did it immediately after the attacks, he said.
"He had a dream to do that. He did it one week after 9/11," Carley said.
One of his first photographs was of a ramshackle wooden parking lot attendant's booth, in New York City, which the attendant painted himself.
"He decided to paint the hut like that," he said. "That's what I love, the parking attendant did that."
Carley said he feels like this is a great time to document history and doesn't want people to forget what happened on 9/11.
"I'd like to have a coffee table book published of this," he said. "I would like to be in the George W. Bush Museum because that would be appropriate."