Justin Cook

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Location: Durham, North Carolina, USA
Nationality: American
Biography: Justin Cook is a photographer because he believes that relationships foster a deliberate life. Relationships are the core of intimate storytelling. 
 He was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1983, but he’s really from here and... read on
Public Story
Tide and Time
Credits: justin cook
Date of Work: 05/01/17 - Ongoing
Updated: 02/05/19
Since 2017 I’ve been photographing the plight to save a tiny historic cemetery from sea level rise on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, an ever-shifting string of barrier islands where generations, including my late grandfather, have lived because of the sea and despite the sea.

For eons the Outer Banks were built and nourished by hurricanes, and they naturally migrated west toward the mainland. Today this process is disrupted by overdevelopment and the highway that threads the island villages. Instead more frequent and intense storms fueled by climate change are eroding the Outer Banks, and six feet of global sea level rise by 2100 threatens to inundate the islands.

Locals are already watching their ancestors and memory slip into the sea. Halfway down Hatteras lies the Salvo Day Use Campground tucked between the edge of the Pamlico Sound and a parking lot — a place teeming with tourists and estuarine life, and a final resting place for descendants of some of the first European settlers to America. But when the storms blow and the water surges, the sound floods the cemetery, which is disappearing grave by grave.

A group of cemetery descendants are racing to build a bulkhead to keep their ancestors from washing away. They discovered that we share a distant ancestor who was once buried at the cemetery, but a storm sucked her into the sound years ago. They introduced me to an elderly woman who grew up in Salvo, and all her life she has watched the ceaseless storms reshape the Outer Banks. Her memories of the only home she has ever known are fading as quickly as the sea strips the island away, but she still wants to be buried at the cemetery next to her grandparents even if the sea eventually takes her bones.

Protecting expensive beachfront homes and billions of tourism dollars are central to sea level rise planning on the Outer Banks. But what about culture? Tide and Time explores the effects of sea level rise on memory and familial roots, creating a historical document of a resilient people on this restless sliver of sand.