During the 20-year break Roger Minick took from documenting sightseers around the United States from the early ’80s to 2000, he noticed crowds and motor-homes increased in size, cellphones and cameras became ubiquitous, and more grandparents and foreign tourists popped up.
“But, like two decades earlier, sightseers were still showing up at the overlooks wearing vivid colors and looking into my camera with the same curious mix of awe and wariness,” Minick wrote via email.
“Sightseer”* is nostalgic, anthropological, cultural, and almost always humorous, something that definitely isn’t lost on Minick.
“Humor is integral to the series because the sightseeing experience, particularly in the United States, is a crazy, frenzied activity. The easy accessibility of the sites and the bigness of the landscapes contribute to a larger-than-life experience,” Minick wrote.
Minick initially began the project shooting in black-and-white but quickly shifted focus to color because he felt the irony and humor between the tourists’ attire and the landscape needed a color palette.
Minick said he feels the project is basically finished, noting that he typically marks an end to a project when the number of “keeper images” approaches 80.
“I have chosen a sequence that is a salad mix of images from all over the United States, preferring a sense of being dropped into one place [the U.S.] rather than a journey through a succession of places,” Minick wrote about the editing process.For Minick, getting people to pose was easy, as he was often asked to take pictures of people because, with his equipment, he looked the part of a professional photographer. “Often I would use this opportunity to take a photograph with my camera, either working with the group as they had posed themselves or nudging them into a different pose. Other times I might simply take a picture of the people photographing themselves, unaware of me, and with or without the person [who was] taking the photograph in the frame.”
“Taking pictures is the number one thing people do when they go sightseeing, because there is something about being at the overlook often surrounded by lots of people; a group psychology takes over, if you will, that makes people more uninhibited in front of the cameras and in front of mine as well.”
Minick’s earlier works “Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta” and “Ozarks of Arkansas” were photographed with a more formal approach, with emphasis on lighting and composition, but he went a different way with “Sightseer.”
“The idea of the ‘snapshot’ as an ‘innocent witness’ was always in the back of my mind. I wanted the same raw honesty and amazed immediacy and slightly out-of-time realism. I believe the use of fill-flash added to this snapshot quality and at times even gives the images an almost surreal diorama-like quality.”
Minick loves to tell two particular stories about images from “Sightseer.”
“The Woman at Inspiration Point has perhaps been the most widely seen image from the series. … I have received many letters over the years claiming that the woman is either their wife or their mother or a friend. They will claim that this person owns a coat exactly like the one in the photograph or they can remember their wife or mother buying the scarf in the Yosemite gift shop.”
The image Couple in Matching Shirts is important for Minick because he had been looking to document a couple in matching shirts and he wasn’t feeling optimistic the day he captured the image because there was a forecast of rain keeping tourists away.
“Well, as luck would have it, the sky did brighten and a car pulled up and out popped this couple in matching shirts. … I approached the couple and told them I loved their shirts … it turned out I had said the right thing, for the woman told me she had just made the shirts and was rather proud of them, and this was their first outing wearing them and of course I could take their photograph.”
Minick said out of nervousness he double-checked his settings and slowly took their picture; the Polaroid in the woman’s hands is one he took for them to keep.
*Correction, April 1, 2013: This blog post originally described the series “Sightseer” as “Sightseers”.