The Next Show: Return to Sender

Return to Sender–Trumbull, Nebr

Return to Sender–Trumbull, Nebr

My next solo exhibition is opening in April 2014, and is titled “Return to Sender: The Endangered Rural Post Office.” It’s more artistic than my previous documentary work, but how is a secret until the show opens. Suffice it to say the 30 images that will compose the show are far deeper than any of the attendees can possibly realize, and each will be an edition of only 4.

The project is about the endangered rural post office, the heart of small town America, and the loss of which often signals the death of a town. But how do these post offices fit in a digital world of mobile e-mail, Facebook, and blanketed cell coverage? They are symbols of a passing world, much like the small towns they inhabit. As much of the Great Plains population wanes, the dying post office emerges as the pivotal icon of the changing century.


  1. Thanks for featuring my home town in one of your photos Brett. Go Trumbull Bearcats! (Oh wait, they are already gone) Go Doniphan-Trumbull Cardinals! I would argue that the loss of a small town’s post office is a distant second to the loss of the small town’s school in the signaling of the “death of a town”. Thankfully, the towns aren’t really dead because of the vibrant people that live there, but the social structure is changed. I am interested in your question “how do these post offices fit in a digital world of mobile e-mail, Facebook, and blanketed cell coverage?”. Great question because this technology is threatening our entire postal system. A question I am interested in is “could the technology have saved some of the small town schools?”

    1. Doug,

      I agree with you completely. The loss of a school is often the death-knell of a rural community, because they have lost their future (the children). The challenge then becomes staying alive despite the loss of the school, and now with the post offices beginning to depart, these little towns are losing their federal identity, too: a functional zip code. They may retain the actual one, but how long before this, too, evaporates?

      I also agree with your thoughts on how tech can save towns. When I still worked for NPR, that was a thread of conversation running through Congress among representatives from rural districts. It was hoped the areas could attract businesses that were less geographically dependent, but the 2008 recession killed a lot of those fledgling enterprises.

      If you look at the Geographic from a few months ago, it had an interesting story on fracking in North Dakota–an area at the brink of depopulated death only 10 years ago. Now it’s booming. The irony is fracking is polluting everything in sight (and out of sight underground), so the temporary boom of 10-20 years will likely result in a literal wasteland. These areas simply can’t win for losing, and it’s a pity.

      Thanks for the great thoughts!

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