McNair Evans: In Search of Great Men
“They were once our great-grandfathers’ vision of progress. From their inception and race across the North American continent … passenger trains shaped what it means to be American. While the US freight industry operates more than 139,679 miles of track, Amtrak is a skeleton of the passenger service that once connected the county. In Search of Great Men explores contemporary America through our passenger rail system and those currently traveling by train.”—McNair Evans
McNair Evans‘ new series, In Search of Great Men, is being presented for the first time by the San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries, running through November 18, 2016, at the San Francisco City Hall: Ground Floor + North Light Court. The project combines “compelling original photography and first-person, passenger-written journals that capture the unique cross-section of train travelers, offering the viewer a poignant and empathetic view of their lives”. For over three years, McNair crisscrossed the country on biannual two-week long Amtrak trips (what he calls a “public artist residency) using the experience to connect with “fellow passengers, record their stories and photograph the people and the landscape.”
Working with curator Ann Jastrab, a collection of approximately 100 photographs and journal reproductions line the walls of city hall. SFAC Galleries Director, Meg Shiffler shares, “We selected Evans’ project for this space because the long, lower level hallway at City Hall echoes the linear, utilitarian quality of an Amtrak passenger train. We hope that viewers will feel like they’re on the train with Evans, meeting passengers and looking out the windows.” In Search of Great Men is supported in part by Grants for the Arts / San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund.
McNair Evans grew up in a small farming town in North Carolina and found photography while studying cultural anthropology at Davidson College. He continued his education through one-on-one mentorships with highly acclaimed pioneers of new documentary practices: Mike Smith of Johnson City, TN and Magnum Photographer Alec Soth. His pictures draw parallels between the lives of individuals and universal shared experiences and are most recognized for a distinct and metaphoric use of light.
Evans’ photographs have appeared in numerous publications, including Harper’s Magazine, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, and on the cover of William Faulkner’s novel Flags in the Dust. Confessions for a Son, Evans’ first major solo exhibition, was shown from November 2013 to January 2014 at San Francisco’s Rayko Photo Center and was later shown at the Sasha Wolf Gallery in New York from February 25 to April 5, 2015, among other venues. An accompanying monograph also titled Confessions for a Son was published in the fall 2014 and sold out within months. Evans has received many awards and honors, such as the John Gutmann Photography Fellowship, 2014, inclusion in “The Visual South: New Super Stars of Southern Art” # 36, by Jason Fulford, Oxford American, 2012 and CENTER’s Curator’s Choice Award juried by SF MOMA Assistant Curator Erin O’Toole. McNair is the recipient of the 2015 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.
“I eat, sleep, and live with my subject. Because long distance trains service many small towns between major destinations, passengers and crew circulate constantly. Collaboration is essential, and each passenger writes about their travels, where they’re coming from, and where they hope to go.”
“At a time when such travel may soon be only a memory, this show 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.”
In Search of Great Men
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, to the creation of time zones, and establishing the fraternal structure of the Civil Rights Movement, passenger trains shaped what it means to be American. While the US freight industry operates more than 139,679 miles of track, Amtrak is a skeleton of the passenger service that once connected the county. In Search of Great Men combines original photography and first-person, passenger-written journals to explore contemporary America through our passenger rail system and those currently traveling by train.
Growing up in a small farming town in North Carolina, I worked summers repairing crossties and track on a 32-mile railroad freight line. I discovered photography as an anthropology student at Davidson College (BA, 2001). Today I travel by 15-day rail passes to make pictures with fellow passengers and passing scenery. 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.
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. At a time when such travel may soon be only a memory, this show 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.
Each trip is the equivalent of an artist residency where I eat, sleep, and live with my subject. Because long distance trains service many small towns between major destinations, passengers and crew circulate constantly. Collaboration is essential, and each passenger writes about their travels, where they are coming from, and where they hope to go.
With an Amish family traveling to Tijuana for medical treatment, a single mother commuting to the North Dakota oil fields, a teenage son hoping to reunite with his father, individual stories are about connection, a desire for something to happen, or a situation to rectify. Collectively, they sketch our nation’s identity and illuminate shared-experiences amidst forces of modernization. Intimate and at times autobiographical, In Search of Great Men follows explores a search for hope that so defines our national identity.
The San Francisco Arts Commission’s City Hall Hallway gallery presents the perfects space to debut this never before exhibited project. Linear, utilitarian, and municipal, the space echoes that of an Amtrak passenger train. Repetition of formalized architecture evokes the sounds and feeling of traveling by rail, presenting the perfect location to share passengers’ true journey.
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