Often but not always, when a post office closes, the zip code it once served is also retired. In 2011, the U.S. Postal Service announced plans to close 3,653 rural post offices, more than 1000 of them in the South. Their endangered zip codes make up part of the titles that Rachel Boillot gives photographs in her series “Post Script,” shot in tiny towns and villages in the South where she found the threatened locations. A show of the work opens tonight at the Half King Photo Series in New York City, where Boillot will speak about the project with Anna Van Lenten, and runs until September 10. Boillot’s photos are a poetic response rather than a complete record—although they show crumbling porches and jumbled, dusty interiors along with portraits of postmasters and -mistresses, her focus is on mysterious fragments—a yellowing letter slipped between window blinds, a sliver of hand framed by a window passthrough, a girl leading a pony, a McDonald’s sign reflected in a window.
Boillot says she found parallels between disappearing post offices and the changing nature of photography. “As a large-format film photographer, I find myself faced with the analog-to-digital transition daily,” she said in a recent interview. “This seemed yet another permutation of the very same struggle I face as a photographer. Photographs and letters are very alike, in my view. Both are full of gaps, filled with mystery and the struggle to communicate across time and space. From the moment the envelope is sealed or the shutter clicked, both objects bring messages from the past.”
More concretely, these places often serve as the heart of their communities, as unofficial gathering places. Writes Boillot about the series, “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.” And like the remaining film photographers in the digital age, closing the post office doesn’t mean the town disappears. “Residents remain anchored in place,” she writes. “In spite of post office departure or a vanished code, the home stands. Attachment to land lingers, rooted deeper than digits.”
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