Gallery: McNair Evans ’01, Photography

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The Aristocrat, the California Zephyr, the Empire Builder…

They were once our great-grandfathers’ vision of progress. From their inception and race across the North American continent, these trains shaped our nation’s identity. While the U.S. freight industry operates more than 139,679 miles of track, Amtrak is a skeleton of the passenger service that once connected the county.

The train can be a beautiful way to travel but, for the most part, long-distance trains are used by people trying to get their lives together, find work, or reunite with people they love and hope will love them back. This project explores that search for something just out of reach and a bit intangible. It is about the desire for change and the possibility of hope fulfilled.

Sitting in those 40-year-old cars that need repair and remodeling, I wonder why the United States is willing to fall behind the rest of the world in a realm of transportation so important to our growing urban populations. At a time when such travel may soon be only a memory, I photograph to preserve these routes, passengers and their search.

As I travel by 15-day rail passes, the train interior provides a consistent stage for uncovering passengers’ true journeys. They write the reason for their travel, where they are coming from, and where they hope to go. With an Amish family traveling to Tijuana for medical treatment, a teenage son hoping to reunite with his father, and a veteran transporting marijuana to the oil fields of North Dakota, stories are about connection, a desire for something to happen, or a situation to rectify. Collectively, they sketch our nation’s identity. In Search of Great Men combines original photography with these first-person, passenger-written accounts to explore contemporary America through our passenger rail system and those currently traveling by train.

—McNair Evans

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Photo Credit: © McNair Evans and courtesy Sasha Wolf Gallery from the series In Search of Great Men that is currently on view at San Francisco City Hall through Nov. 18.

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