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for people who care about the West

On the road with America’s sightseers

A photographer looks at three decades of tourism.

 

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.