On the road with America’s sightseers

A photographer looks at three decades of tourism.

  • Couple at Monument Valley, Utah, 1980.

    Roger Minick
  • Tourists photographing Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, 1980.

    Roger Minick
  • Family at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1980.

    Roger Minick
  • Uncle and nephew at Sunset Point, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, 1980.

    Roger Minick
  • Boy with headress at Lower Falls Overlook, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, 1980.­

    Roger Minick
  • Couple at Sunset Point, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, 1980.

    Roger Minick
  • Man at Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, California, 1980.

    Roger Minick
  • Sleeper tour bus at Goulding, Arizona, 1980.

    Roger Minick
  • Woman photographing in Glacier National Park, Montana, 1981.

    Roger Minick
  • Couple viewing Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1980.

    Roger Minick

 

In 1976, Roger Minick was shepherding a group of photography students through the crowds at the famous Inspiration Point overlook in Yosemite National Park. Tourists with clicking camera shutters and coordinated outfits pushed their way past his students, intently focused on taking snapshots of both the vista and themselves. At first, Minick was irritated, but the repetitive performance eventually sparked his curiosity.

And so, in the summer of 1979, Minick and his wife began a road trip around the United States to photograph sightseers. His subjects were often harried, working their way through a tight schedule of attractions. So Minick took a direct approach to them, explaining that he hoped the project “might be seen in years to come as a kind of time capsule of what Americans looked like at the end of the 20th century.” To his surprise, many nodded their heads in assent, as if that made perfect sense.

He came to see the crowds as their own species, Sightseer americanus, the American on holiday, avidly touring the nation’s great attractions. His images capture the humor of families and individuals, clad in brightly colored T-shirts, desperate to capture each fleeting moment at every destination.

Minick returned to the series in the 1990s and in 2000. In that time, he saw more visitors, more cellphones, more foreigners. But the essence of S. americanus remained unchanged: the eager rush from sight to sight, the vivid clothes, and always the camera, slung around the craning- neck.

-Kate Schimel, editorial intern at High Country News.