McNair Evans

McNair Evans (b. 1979, Laurinburg, North Carolina)

Now based in San Francisco, McNair Evans grew up in a small North Carolina farming town. Evans earned a BA in anthropology from Davidson College in North Carolina, where he first discovered photography as he recorded an Appalachian family’s oral history. He went on to train with Alec Soth and with Mike Smith, whose work is also included in Southbound. Evans was the recipient of a 2016 Guggenheim Fellowship. His work is included in a number of major public collections, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Evans’s work—noted for its literary qualities and metaphoric use of light—studies the American cultural landscape in the wake of modernization, highlighting the experiences and identities of those who have found themselves adrift in its waters. 

Evans’s anthropological training is evident in his series Confessions for a Son, in which he attempts to come to terms with the life and legacy of the father he thought he knew. Upon his father’s death, it was revealed that the man Evans admired died deeply in debt, risking his family’s financial and emotional futures. Almost a decade after his father’s passing, Evans returned home to process his feelings of grief, love, and betrayal through photography. 

A dilapidated, once-grand home serves as a metaphor for the ebb and flow of Southern fortunes and for Evans’s own family history. Shaw Farm 03 (2010) is an image made on property purchased by the Evans family long before they faced financial woes. The glow of the golden weeds in the foreground does nothing to warm the cold and ruined house that hides behind them. In describing the image, Evans recalls that when he was a boy a tenant farmer lived in a trailer next to the property and used the bottom story of the main house as a repository for his family’s trash. The house, like Evans’s father, reached a point of no return. This image was used on the cover of the Vintage International 2012 reprint of William Faulkner’s novel Flags in the Dust. It is an apt pairing, as Faulkner’s story follows the deterioration of a once-great aristocratic family laboring in the shadow of its late patriarch.

Gun Collection (2009) features another potent metaphor—newspaper-wrapped guns, which Evans likens to mummies. The guns, which range from a Colonial-era musket to bird-hunting shotguns, were used by Evans and his father as they hunted together in the artist’s youth. After his father’s death, Evans carefully oiled each gun, then wrapped them in newspaper to prevent rust from taking over these artifacts of his childhood. In preserving his father’s prized possessions in newspaper, Evans also preserved a collection of his father’s last thoughts, provoked by the stories and images delivered by the New York Times and other newspapers read around the time of his death. The guns are mummified memories of Evans’s childhood and his father’s cerebral landscape. Another still life rendered poetic through Evans’s lens is Wedding Silver (2010). Jumbled in a wet pile in the bottom of a kitchen sink is the set of silverware Evans’s parents received on the occasion of their wedding. The painterly use of light highlights the disorder that Evans believes speaks to his family history: “really fine materials in a current state of disarray.”

Floodlight (2009) is an all-night exposure made in Evans’s childhood bedroom. Natural and artificial light are juxtaposed in the orange fluorescence of a floodlight filling the window as the blues of the predawn morning encompass the space. Evans’s mother installed the floodlight after the death of his father, at a time when unemployment rates in the county were skyrocketing and house burglaries increasing. Lonely and frightened of potential break-ins, she found a sense of security in the floodlight. Evans’s image highlights the disparity between interior and exterior space, safety and danger, artifice and nature, to convey the isolation and loneliness left in the wake of his father’s passing. While Confessions for a Son is a deeply personal project, Evans’s series gives viewers pause to consider how one man’s struggle is emblematic of larger human experiences.

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