Opening Reception
Friday, May 3, 2019


Local photojournalist, John Tully brings his work to 42 Maple Contemporary Art Center in May. Tully’s ongoing body of work, titled “Shifting Sands” was first published online by National Geographic.

In the Shifting Sands collection, Tully focuses on the Outer Banks, a string of barrier islands along North Carolina’s coast which brings in nearly $1 billion a year through tourism-related spending. The bulk of this region’s tourist season lasts just four months, from June through September.

Whether locals or natives, the people of the Outer Banks have always existed within the challenges associated with inhabiting the naturally migrating barrier islands. In many ways, developing on this thin strip of shifting sand is a bit like trying to build permanent, often multi-million dollar structures on a sandbar.

In 2010, North Carolina state officials said the ocean could rise thirty-nine inches over the next one hundred years, all but eliminating the Outer Banks. This announcement spurred heated debate between the real-estate industry, businesses, and environmentalists.

Lobbyists took to the North Carolina statehouse, convincing elected officials that admitting the data would mean an almost certain decrease in property value and increase to property insurance. Business owners and investors called it a death sentence to the economy of the coastal communities.

According to Tully, North Carolina became ground zero for the denial of climate change as lawmakers not only dismissed sea level rise based on non-scientific conclusions but worked to limit the original findings through a newer, more short-term analysis. He said the lawmakers all but ignored a future plan of action.

“The Shifting Sands project came about at a crossroads in my career when I was trying to figure out how photography would fit into my life going forward after leaving a job as a newspaper staff photographer,” said Tully. “I spent a lot of time exploring and photographing my surroundings while living on the Outer Banks. As the project took shape, which happened rather quickly, I not only found the focus for sharing a slice of life and an area at risk of disappearing, but I found a focus for myself to slow down and work on issues that speak to me,” said Tully.

A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and student at the Danish School of Media and Journalism, he worked as a staff photojournalist for several daily newspapers around the country before venturing on his own to focus on long-term documentary work.

Tully’s body of work stems from his time focusing on quiet moments of everyday life as an exploration into the idea of home. He focuses on the backyards and backroads that make up a community, and he was the recipient of a 2018 grant from Duke University’s Archive of Documentary Arts Collection Awards for Environmental Change.

In 2015, Time Magazine named Tully as the Instagram photographer to follow in North Carolina, one of only fifty photographers selected in the country, and again in 2016 for the state of New Hampshire. He has worked with publications such as National Geographic and is a frequent contributor to The New York Times, The Washington Post, FiveThirtyEight, NPR and The Wall Street Journal, as well as non-profit organizations.