Bussing Across America: One Student’s Visual Perspective

Photos Courtesy of Max Li, Written by Jessica Resendez 

Max Li is a photographer on the run across America. Li, a third-year international art major, spent seventy hours during spring break traveling from Los Angeles to New York on a Greyhound bus. Stopping at thirty-two bus stops along the way, he touched down in ten different states and spent nearly $200 for the experience of a lifetime. Using a monochrome camera specifically designed to take black-and-white photos, Li focused on capturing the many faces he encountered along the way.

Inspired by the lack of human interaction involved in traveling by plane, train, and automobile, Li’s travel experience led him to a project that emphasizes the raw and rugged human nature of those living in rural America.  Traveling along the Great Plains and American countryside, Li developed an objective understanding of people who rely on bus transportation out of necessity, rather than leisure. His other projects include backpacking across Western China and visiting twenty-three national parks across America.

To view more of Li’s photo stories and projects, visit his website at www.maximage.org or follow him on Instagram @Maxsimage.

An Embrace: A Mother’s Sorrow

It was dawn, the sun was barely rising, when Li was awoken by a woman’s piercing cry. “My baby, my baby,” a woman cried out, tears rolling down her face. Seated in the back of the bus, the woman had been thirty minutes away from her destination. She had received news that her son was contemplating ending his life. Then the phone call came. The woman’s son was dead. At the next bus stop, Li watched as the devastated woman sobbed uncontrollably in the arms of a relative.

The Mistake: Returning Back Home

A young woman sat by a window, gazing out at the scenery passing her by. She was on a return-trip back to her hometown in Kentucky. On a whim, she took a chance with a man and they ventured to California. She didn’t expect that he would try to rape her on three separate occasions. She didn’t expect she would have to escape when he wasn’t looking. She didn’t expect she’d have to spend her last dollars on a return ticket back home.

The Stranger: A Kind Gesture

It was around 3 a.m. at a bus station in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. People were tired and cold waiting for their next bus to arrive.  A mother watches her son nearby. Her boy is full of energy at this time and finds a new friend in a woman they have never met before. The woman is probably tired of the wait herself, but she doesn’t mind when the boy asks if she could teach him how to ride a skateboard. Together they pass the time until it is time to go their separate ways. 

The Driver: Watch Your Step

At a gas station in West Virginia, a driver’s shift is over and another takes his place. He boards the bus and notices Li taking photos of people nearby. Noting Li’s Chinese ethnicity, the driver leans in to warn him about the upcoming trip. “This is the turf of rednecks” the driver said. “They don’t like you or me, so be careful taking photos.”