The Amelie A. Wallace Gallery at SUNY Old Westbury is pleased to announce the opening of “Post Script: Photographs by Rachel Boillot” on April 4, 2016. The exhibition, which runs through May 5, 2016, features photographs of closed post offices, and those threatened with closure, and the communities affected by these closures. “Post Script” was shot in 2012 and 2013 during Boillot’s visits to rural areas in eleven Southern states, where zip codes are disappearing. There will be a lecture by the artist on April 21, 2016 at 3:50 p.m., followed by a reception in the gallery.
Forty-three photographs selected from her project will be on display in the artist’s first New York show on the College's campus. Shooting 4 x 5 color negative sheet film in a 4 x 5 color field camera, the artist approached her project as an artistic inquiry rather than a social science project. Images include rural post offices that are closed or whose fates are unclear—from dilapidated structures to still-maintained offices—all suggesting the harm done to those who rely the most on the United States Postal Service. Free from voyeuristic character, “Post Script” features the people Boillot met in these small towns, including postmasters and postmistresses whose jobs are in peril. As Boillot says in her catalogue, “The post offices serve as town centers in rural communities. Often acting as a town’s sole address, this location embodies the numerical identity of place. Without its presence in the landscape, a ZIP code is lost.” Nonetheless, these homes still stand and their residents remain anchored in place, attached to the land by roots deeper than numerical digits.
In 2011, the USPS announced that 3,653 rural post offices would close. More than 1,000 of the condemned facilities are located in the South, and several thousand more have been added to this list. Boillot’s photographic observations of squalid post offices, rusty mailboxes near untended fields, and struggling communities turn these statistics into relatable reality. While public protest and pressure from Congress have resulted in an unofficial moratorium on closures, the post offices undergo “emergency suspensions,” supposedly temporary, but the impact is devastating nonetheless. The original democratic mission of the USPS was to keep the country connected, enabling communication with even the most remote corners of the nation. That mission has been destroyed by quasi-privatization of a once purely public service—closing unprofitable post offices and stopping delivery on low-volume days. The most remote corners of the nation are now even more removed from the mainstream.
Boillot’s work is heir to the U.S. social documentary photography tradition most characteristically found in images made by the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression, when photographers such as Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange documented struggling rural populations. But FSA documentation promoted social welfare programs; Boillot’s work reveals the opposite effect, the government’s abandonment of needy communities. In this way, her work bears a closer affinity to the British photographers of the late 1970s and 1980s who shifted from the public realm of social and political documentary to use photography as a means of exploring subjective experience and individual identity while documenting social and economic deprivation. Photographers such as Chris Killip, Graham Smith, Tish Murtha depicted the effects of de-industrialization, unemployment, and the overall debilitation of English Northern communities during the Thatcher era. Photographer Paul Graham’s position as a sympathetic observer of the unemployed in his project Beyond Caring (1986) is a close cousin of Boillot’s approach.
Boillot’s 2014 catalogue Post Script pairs the photographs with excerpts from correspondence between author Eudora Welty and William Maxwell, Welty’s dear friend and editor. Welty wrote “Why I Live at the P.O.” (1941), a short story inspired by her own photographs when she worked for the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. Welty’s story, which served as a guide for Boillet’s project, evokes a nostalgia not only for the lost rural life of the American South, but also for the lost analogue technologies of letter writing and film photography.
Rachel Boillot (b. 1987) is a photographer, documentary artist, and educator. She holds a BA in Sociology from Tufts University, a BFA in Photography from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and an MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts from Duke University. Boillet has served as a Visiting Lecturer in Photography at Duke University and as a Multimedia Documentarian for the Friends of the Cumberland Trail. Boillet’s photographs have been acquired by permanent collections worldwide. Her work may also be found in book form. Post Script (2014) and Silent Ballad (2015) are available in limited editions of 100 and 50, respectively. Recent work has been funded by the Annenberg Foundation of Los Angeles, CA, and the Riverview Foundation of Chattanooga, TN. Boillet teaches in the Art Department at Lincoln Memorial University, works as an Assistant Producer at Sandrock Recordings, and maintains an independent photography practice in East Tennessee.
Photo caption: "38630 Farrell, MS" by Rachel Boillot.