Emily Hobgood Thomas is an artist from Morehead City, North Carolina. Emily makes photographs with varying degrees of manipulation that investigate the socioeconomic impact of tourism. At this time, Emily’s work focuses on the Outer Banks region of North Carolina.
Emily graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2018 with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Studio Art with a Concentration in Painting. In 2020, Emily earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Studio Arts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
I make work about places and spaces that have been impacted by tourism. My hometown of Morehead City, North Carolina is a tourist destination that is facing economic decline and has been since the 1960’s. In various iterations of photography-based work, I examine the decaying buildings and sites that once functioned as places for tourists such as empty hotels, abandoned pools, half-built structures, and parking lots strewn with debris. Their current state of disintegration reflects the livelihoods that sank with the rest of the industry in many towns like it across the country.
My project, Transient Places, Future Nostalgia, is influenced by Lucy Lippard’s On The Beaten Track. In this text, Lippard examines the economic decline of tourist destinations. She writes, “armed with a camera, every tourist is an involuntary artist, learning to frame and focus, if thoughtlessly.” The everyday person has had access to the camera since the invention of the tool in 1839, with people using it to record their travels to unknown destinations. The camera functions as an essential object that influences tourism, and by using a camera in my work, I subvert the tourist image that Lippard speaks to in order to reclaim authority of the narrative of travel destinations.
I began making collages using instant camera film after Hurricane Florence hit the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the Fall of 2019. The instant film is more precious than a smartphone image, as it takes time to develop the image, rather than immediate production of a picture on a phone. I manipulate the film with careful incisions, doing away with the preciousness of the snapshot. Disassembling and reassembling something new, examine generations of the cycles of progress, growth, development, and decay. In time, another iteration of this body of work has come to fruition.
Through the editing process, I create photographs that vary between little to heavy manipulation. In Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes explains that the photograph engages with time, “what will be and has been.” This impossible compression time shows the subject of the photograph as dead in accordance of time and concurrently always in the process of dying. Time, when visually compressed into years, provides my layering of places that depicts the absence of human presence. When photographing the once popular tourist hotels in Morehead City, I’m not focused on the presence or absence of bodies, but rather the moments within an architectural structure that compress and flatten out generations of economic and physical growth and decline. Photography is a relationship to place using time and light to define the single moment that is in the limbo of mortality. I focus on time as a narrative element that examines the cycle of life and death through the systematic growth and decay of architectural forms local to Morehead City.
When I build collages, I have a more obvious hand, allowing damage to be revealed within the confines of the collage. The cuts and seams are geometric, and clearly able to be seen. This is a nod to physical collage where cuts, when placed on top of each other, created a clear hierarchy of layers. In my digital collages, edits and additions are more subtle, reviving the landscape and revealing a responsibility or possibility for the place that is ahead of its time. Within each digital collage, small details are assigned authority through size manipulations and multiplications, allowing them to take on new importance. The lack of the physical cutting allows the collage to be a less violent iteration of the work compared to a physical incision.
Using my lens as a local in a tourist destination, I have been able to understand the detriment done to my hometown in efforts to make the economy survive. I am connected by the history of the tourist image and the essence that keeps the town alive. My work is a personal meditation on effects of time, development, growth, manipulation, economic decline, abandonment, and destruction.