• Features
  • Rachel Boillot Explores Musical Heritage of East Tennessee

    Rachel Boillot is a 30 year-old photographer, filmmaker, and educator based in Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, USA. She was raised in the suburbs of New York, but for a two year hiatus in Singapore starting when she was eight years old. Rachel teaches in the Art Department at Lincoln Memorial University, is Director and Co-Producer of the Cumberland Folklife series of documentary films, and maintains her independent photography practice in East Tennessee where she started her project Silent Ballad.

    How did you get interested in photography and why did you pick photography as a medium and form of expression?
    I fell into it, really. I was fortunate enough to attend a high school with an art requirement. I couldn’t draw, so I enlisted in Photography. From there on out, it became my singular passion. The darkroom was my respite.

    Introduce us to your project Silent Ballad
    I first went to Tennessee in the June of 2014. My intention was to spend two months making photographs for a Park Ranger. The subject matter remained opaque to me.

    Folklorist, naturalist, and musician Bob Fulcher – who currently manages Tennessee’s Cumberland Trail State Scenic Park – was initially dismayed by my lack of knowledge regarding old-time country music. Turned out this was to be the  focus of the job.

    “Old-time traditions, faith, and the rural landscape all inform this portrait of the Cumberland Plateau”.

    Bob believes that preserving cultural resources is just as important as land conservation in this region, which is the more explicit prerogative of the Parks System. But, in Tennessee, music is “in the water,” as the saying goes.

    What inspired Silent Ballad? Why did you decide to explore this area?
    I learned that there was a time when families played together at home for the sheer revelry of sounding out in celebration after a hard day’s work. They played thankfully for another day gone by.

    There was genuine soul in that. It was not a commercial endeavor; it was expression. This music is the joyous revelry of the hard-working but impoverished. They sang or played but for no other reason that to do so. It was never about commodity. It was about humanity. They made music in order to relish the human impulse for creative expression while surviving – not because they wanted to be famous on the radio.

    For how long have you worked on this body of work?
    I’ve spent the past 4 years working on this project. It has resulted in a set of genuine human relationships, a documentary film, and a book. My heart is sincerely in this work.

    What was your main intent in creating this body of work?
    I wanted to preserve what would otherwise be lost.

    Enjoy the series on her website.