Monday, August 4, 2014

Rachel Boillot

Rachel Boillot (b. 1987) grew up in New York and Singapore. Her undergraduate coursework was completed at Tufts University and The School of the Museum of Fine Arts. She spent the following two years working as a photographic archivist for the Boston Housing Authority. Before returning to graduate school, she taught photography at My Life, My Choice, helping victims of sexual exploitation tell their own stories.

Rachel graduated from Duke University’s MFA|EDA program this past May. Post Script was her thesis work. The project is available as a limited edition photobook and also marked her first solo exhibition at the Cassilhaus Gallery. 

All of Rachel’s photographic work explores the American home and socio-cultural landscape. Other projects have looked at her own home, foreclosed homes, public housing developments, and former mining boomtowns.

As the recipient of a post-graduate fellowship, she will continue to photograph in North Carolina and Tennessee this upcoming year.

Post Script 

In 2011, the United States Postal Service announced 3,653 rural post offices would close. A disproportionate number of the condemned are located in the South. Several thousand locations have since been added to this list of erasure as the Postal Service struggles to cement its foothold in an increasingly digitized world. The fate of the rural post office remains unclear. 

Growing up in America, I scarcely thought about the post office. Its ubiquity in the American landscape rendered it nearly invisible to me. In Post Script, I explore how the post office embodies the identity of place.

The post office serves as town center 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. Yet residents remain anchored in place. In spite of post office departure or a vanished code, the home stands. Attachment to land lingers, rooted deeper than digits. 

I was initially intrigued by the dilemma of the Postal Service because of the parallel to my own field. Like the letter, the analog photograph seems threatened at present. Though photography flourishes, the transition from analog to digital has rendered aspects of my own practice obsolete—even entirely extinct. As remains of the analog world coexist with the emergent digital technology, this moment of change begs consideration.

Upon reflection, I realized the similarity between photographs and letters. From the moment the envelope is sealed, or the shutter clicked, both objects bring messages from the past. As the object arrives, it brings this past into our presence, whispering across distance. As each takes flight, the sender relinquishes all control. Their very message relies upon the grasping interpretations of a recipient. Both are full of gaps, filled with mystery and the struggle to communicate across time and space.

This is a work about post offices. It is also a work about place—in this case, many different places in the rural South—but more importantly, the very notion of place. How we name it and if we can claim it. 

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