Portraits of Motorists Stranded by the Side of the Road


For the past five years, photographer Amy Stein has been driving across America and capturing portraits random strangers who are stranded on the side of the road after having their cars break down. She often drives on freeways hours upon hours before coming upon a new subject for the series.

Here’s what Stein says about her project, which is intended to be a metaphor for the challenges facing the United States:

Beginning with the government’s failed response to the flooding of New Orleans in 2005, the American people suffered through a series of devastating corruptions of their traditional structures of support. Stranded is a meditation on the despondence of the American psyche as this collapse of certainty left the country stuck in an unfamiliar space between distress and relief. In this series the car serves as both figurate symbol of American destiny and a literal representation of the personal breakdowns on the road to that promise. The images live in the road photography tradition of Robert Frank, Stephen Shore and Joel Sternfeld, but where they sought to capture the American experience through “the journey,” my photographs seek to tell the story of this time through the journey interrupted.

I have spent the past five plus years driving across America photographing stranded motorists. Finding subjects is a matter of chance and every encounter is tense because of the unusual circumstances of our interaction and the inherent danger of the roadside environment. Most of the photographs from this series can be found on a Google Map that documents my travels across the US.

Stein’s project is also intended to benefit the subjects, as she also offers her assistance to the unlucky commuters. In addition to her medium format camera and tripod, Stein always brings along items to help and refresh the subjects, including water, food, a jumper cable, and a jack.


















Head on over to the project’s gallery on Stein’s website to see more of these images.

Stranded by Amy Stein (via Wired)

Image credits: Photographs by Amy Stein and used with permission

  • Stefan Schiefer

    talk about a niche market!

  • Another Kiwi

    The dude with the camo, balaclava and rifle is, ah, scary as hell. brave to get a photo of him.

  • AW

    Nice photos. Bit of a weird obsession, but I suppose lots of art is.

  • Mansgame

    So forget offering a gallon of gas, fluid, a jack, bottled water, or anything else that may ease these people’s bad day – she wants to take a picture of their misery. No wonder people hate photographers.

  • jimmytwotone

    probably staged (asked him to put on the mask and hold his gun). my guess he was going hunting and had the items in his car, i dont see him wearing that while he is driving.

  • Word blind?

    ‘Stein’s project is also intended to benefit the subjects, as she also offers her assistance to the unlucky commuters. In addition to her medium format camera and tripod, Stein always brings along items to help and refresh the subjects, including water, food, a jumper cable, and a jack.’

    Reading is helpful sometimes.

  • brandon

    if you don’t see something wrong with having a young girl stand uncomfortably for you (a stranger) while he has no idea what’s going to be happening to her, as her parents try and fix some transportation problem on the side of the road while you haul out your MF camera, dial in an exposure, and focus, you are an ass.

  • DamianM


  • KB

    Most of these photos are weak. Excellent example of the fine art scene where without the story or caption, the photo(s) can’t stand on their own.

  • Michele-Louise Ridley-Cook

    why do the majority of these subjects appear to be african american and poor? a bit of bias?

  • Mauricio Andres Ramirez Lozada

    i counted 10 photos of white people, againts 6 of black people… probably your perception IS biased, but dont you worry, im against you too.

  • fully focused

    it specifically says in the type that she brings items alond to help the people…….no wonder why people hate ignorance…. it happens all to often…..learn some reading skills before you judge a group like that

  • James

    If you think about it, poor peoples car’s are older, in general, and so therefore more likely to break down. Also, would you not want the photographer to how a sample of reality rather than sanitizing the demographics of the results – if you want that just watch tv!

  • Carin Basson

    She does bring a kit with things to help them, though that picture was a bit too awkward for me

  • Gary Eason

    This would be a good point if it were true. It isn’t.

  • Gary Eason

    Wrong. Fact.

  • Gary Eason

    Well figure it out. A rather large bias – in the US economy.

  • mortimer121

    no nice chick.. so who cares….

  • Steven Cohn

    Far be it from me to interrupt the conversation but aside from the first two words posted by the first commenter, no one has mentioned the photography itself. Or might I say lack thereof? Beyond the blaringly obvious social commentary that people with less money typically have less reliable cars, there’s nothing really compelling about these from a photographic perspective. Do they all have to be shot dead-center at f/9? Sorry maybe it’s just me, being spoiled by the likes of McNally, Arias, Peterson, et al. I also do appreciate the challenge of trying to capture the atmosphere and mood on the side of a busy highway (or in a McD’s parking lot) but maybe try a little imagination. Maybe try shooting from ontop of a box to give that “feeling-small” perspective. Or shoot wide open to highten the tension. Give me something, anything other than what one of these unfortunate people’s brothers might have shot while waiting for help. For what it’s worth, take a look at her Web site; some of her work is interesting.

  • Mansgame

    I’m only here for the pictures ;)

  • nab111

    I’m usually extremely open and receptive to new concepts and projects, but I just found this whole project pretty terrible really! There is no great story to be told and the story that has been attributed to it seems to have been welded on so as to bolster and add meaning and depth to the project.
    Amy Stein has done some great work, but this does absolutely nothing for me.

  • Ralph Hightower

    FORD: Found On Road Dead,

  • biscuits

    Is Ford a type of animal? What a pity…

  • eraserhead12

    the area looks rural and racially diverse–if those were simply the subjects she came across, it’s an authentic representation of her community. would you rather she took one photo each of an asian family, a white family, a black family, a native american family, a hispanic family, etc, to make some artificial, fabricated sterile portrait when that is clearly not the point of this work?

    funny how people just see what they want to see, considering most photos are of caucasians. but you somehow didn’t see that.

  • Sandra Sigfusson

    Normally, if I don’t have an appreciation for photos, I try to offer some constructive criticism, however I really think she has scraped the bottom of the barrel for a photo project on this one. The only saving grace is that she came prepared to help the subjects out of their unfortunate circumstances. I’m also not too terribly impressed with the calibre of the image compositions. Frankly, I’m just sorry I can’t get the last 5 minutes back.

  • nick

    Looks like regular pictures i take with my iphone.

  • Selsk

    This is pretty WHATEVS.

  • Sum_it

    Not sure if its intentional but you can feel the photographer’s presence to a degree that’s not to my liking.

  • Jason

    What a strange fetish/fascination.