The cemetery threatened by erosion now features a photo exhibition

Visitors view the Photoville FENCE exhibit for tide and time in the Salvo day-use area on Hatteras Island. Photo: Justin Cook

Visitors who stop at the day-use area in Salvo, part of the Cape Hatteras national coastline, almost certainly notice the small cemetery with a few dozen graves perched right on the edge of the Pamlico Strait.

The Salvo Community Cemetery on Hatteras Island dates back several generations and has long been in danger of eroding or even losing graves to sound due to erosion.

Efforts have been made in recent years to save the cemetery, including installing a partition in 2018, and earlier this year the National Park Service announced improvement projects, but the descendants are well aware that it is only a matter of time and the tide before everything is under water.

Justin cook
Justin cook

“They say in the years to come it really won’t be an island. It will only be water, ”Earl Whidbee told Durham photojournalist Justin Cook for his photography and reporting project,“ Tide and Time: Sea Level Rise and Solastalgia on North Carolina’s Outer Banks ”.

“Tide and Time” was first published in May in Coastal Review in partnership with the Connected Coasts Nationwide of the Pulitzer Center and is now an outdoor exhibit at the cemetery, on display since mid-September.

Cook recapped in an interview that he spent four years working on “Tide and Time,” a documentary, photography and reporting project that studies the effects of sea level rise and erosion. , told through a small cemetery on the edge of the Strait of Pamlico which erodes in sound.

“It investigates people with deep family ties to this piece of land, the ecosystems that surround it, and the psychological impacts of this change on their daily lives as opposed to the large, dramatic and short-term effects of hurricanes. The project, instead, studies the slow evolution of climate change and people’s daily lives, ”he said.

Cook introduces several descendants of those buried in the Salvo Community Cemetery, he tells them about rising sea levels, storms, what they have lost and what they remember. He also chats with scientists on climate change and delves into the term solastalgia, which Cook said philosopher Glenn Albrecht “defined as a feeling of loss, homesickness and distress specifically caused by the change. environment around someone’s home and a sense of helplessness in the face of this change. “

With the help of descendants and locals, Cook expanded his project to include the free outdoor exhibit at the cemetery. Installed in mid-September and on display from 9 a.m. until nightfall, the long banner attached to one side of the cemetery fence documents the accelerated effects of climate change and erosion on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. North. There is scientific information, photographs and portraits of those buried in the cemetery on the banner.

Cook himself is a descendant of his grandfather, the late William Albert Best Jr. of Stumpy Point in County Dare.

The banner exhibit was a natural extension of “Tide and Time” and was inspired by Photoville, a New York-based nonprofit founded in 2011. The organization holds an annual photography festival in public spaces and Photoville FENCE, a public photography all year round. project displayed in major parks and city centers across the continent, which made stops in Durham.

Cook said anyone can participate in the Photoville exhibit because it is free and in a public space. It also gives people the opportunity to confront at work and work confronts them.

He was walking around Durham and thought that a Photoville FENCE exhibit of “Tide and Time” on the cemetery fence would be “wild”. He said he pitched the idea to locals on the Friends and Descendants of Salvo Community Cemetery Facebook page and that “buy-in was immediate.”

Jean Hooper, center, whose husband, grandparents and great-grandparents are buried at the Salvo Community Cemetery, helps secure the banner to the fence, while Jenny Creech, who also has relatives buried here , protects it from drizzle.  Photo: Justin Cook
Jean Hooper, center, whose husband, grandparents and great-grandparents are buried at the Salvo Community Cemetery, helps secure the banner to the fence, while Jenny Creech, who also has relatives buried here , protects it from drizzle. Photo: Justin Cook

Cook designed the banner with help from the community and collaborated with descendant Robin Holt on the text – his research and reporting – and Photoville guided him through the banner printing process.

This community buy-in and hyper-local focus is an important part of his work, a big part of why he found it helpful to work with Coastal Review to publish his project earlier this year, he said. declared.

The mission of the Pulitzer Center, particularly with Connected Coastlines, is to inspire local media, especially smaller ones, with reporting projects that require resources often beyond the capacity of small publications. Either they don’t have the staff or the time to invest in a project like this, Cook said, adding: “It actually went perfectly and made a lot of sense, the impact was hyper local. , which is really important to me too.

He explained that the longer he works in the documentary, the more he thinks the community he works in should get the most impact from it.

“For this (project) to appear in a coastal North Carolina publication, it was in line with those values ​​for me and I think it allowed me to do the banner display as well,” he said. .

Cook explained that he wanted to have an exhibit on the Outer Banks, but then the pandemic happened. While there was the option of spending thousands of dollars on beautifully printed framed prints to hang in a gallery, he opted for something completely different that would open to the public and safely during the pandemic.

He said that when he pitched the idea for the banner to those he had worked with, they were already familiar with Coastal Review and being supported by the Pulitzer Center gave the project legitimacy.

“Having a national institution supporting this (project) and publishing in a local publication that had familiarity, was just a real highlight for the job,” he said.

The reporting project and closing exhibit were made possible by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting Connected Coastlines Initiative, the North Carolina Arts Council, the Photoville FENCE exhibit, The Coastal Review Online, and The National Park Service.

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