My Favorite Toy

  • Photographer
    Rex Thomas
  • Prize
    Honorable Mention

"Favorite Toy" features 12 portraits of my daughters’ toys. The number of images represent the year of the Newtown massacre, the minimalistic approach, a focus what has been lost since. The blue background draws on the theory of blue being a desirable color for classrooms to promote learning and creativity. Its use in Print #11; conflict to this ideal. The 911 calls draw on “off-screen sound” provides discord between what is seen and what is heard: That school shootings are cruel, preventable tragedies being inflicted on children, parents, teachers, and the lives that are left behind.


My twin daughters were born on December 12, 2012. Two days later, sitting in a hospital room cradling my newborn daughters, I watched news that 20 school children between the ages of 5 and 10, had been murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School. At 3:34 p.m., President Obama stood at a podium in the White House Briefing Room and addressed the nation. The President faltered, stood silent, wiping away tears. For more than 11 seconds, he was something beyond presidential … he was a parent.

This is the world in which my daughters, and all the children born in the days before and after, have entered. One where the politics of such massacres is predictably and absurdly the same. Calls for stricter gun laws, universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are met with Second Amendment platitudes, individual freedoms, arming teachers, bulletproof backpacks … offers of “Thoughts and prayers”. One where schoolchildren are acutely aware that “bad people” want to kill them, police stand guard at drop-offs and pickups, and the leading cause of death among U.S. children is gun violence.

February 14, 2018: 17 people are murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. My daughters were five.

May 24, 2022: 19 first graders and two teachers murdered at Robbs Elementary School. My daughters were nine.

March 27, 2023: 6 more people, 3 nine-year-olds among them, slaughtered at Covenant School. My daughters are ten.

In the days following Sandy Hook, the father of one of the victims was on CNN, speaking with unfathomable emotional courage about his son’s short life. He concluded the interview with a snapshot, not of his son, but of his son’s “favorite toy”: a stuffed rabbit. It was a moving portrait of his son, revealing more than a school portrait could have. It was surreal. A chilling aide-mémoire of an incomprehensible epidemic that is uniquely American tragedy.

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