San Francisco-based photographer McNair Evans is literally on the move, working on an ongoing project he calls In Search of Great Men in which he travels by Amtrak, capturing fleeting landscapes out the window and fellow passengers inside. He weaves together images with words, collecting stories from the passengers—tales of their past, hopes for their future, a few of which he shares here. We recently asked him more about the project.
Tell us about In Search of Great Men.
“This project is about long-distance Amtrak travel and combines photography with first-person, passenger-written travelogues. America’s rail infrastructure fundamentally shaped our nation geographically, economically, and politically. Trains hallmark our national identity. As federal fiscal conservatism rises in response to our national deficit, Congress seriously questions the future and cross-country passenger rail risks completely disappearing altogether. This project reveals the state of our nation’s passenger rail system and those utilizing the service at a time when the viability of this system faces questions at all levels.”
How do you go about making the work?
“I travel by 15-day rail passes to make pictures with passing scenery and fellow passengers. Landscape interaction at 78 mph is instantaneous and fleeting, exploring photography’s inherent relationship with the past and the unattainable. The train interior provides a stage consistent in color and design, and through which diverse characters continuously rotate. With each passenger, I ask them to write about why they are traveling, where they are coming from and where they hope to go. Each story reflects contemporary American culture through the state of our national rail system and the passenger’s own experiences.”
Who do you think travels by train?
“This project is about the search for hope and to find something just out of reach and a bit intangible. It is about the desire for change and the possibility of hope fulfilled. Of course it can be a beautiful way to travel, but for the most part train travel is for folks who are not quite reaching “the American dream.” The stories they tell seem mostly to be about desire that something might happen for them, or they are trying to rectify a situation. It’s amazing that strangers will write so much. It is like they were just bottled up waiting for the moment someone would ask them about what they are thinking about.”
Feature Shoot Contributing Editor Julia Sabot is the Associate Photo Editor at Dwell.