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Delightful Portraits of American Tourists Sightseeing in the 1980s

Roger_Minick_14Twins with Matching Outfits at Lower Falls Overlook, Yellowstone National Park, WY 1980

Roger_Minick_09Man with Dog at Sunset Point, Bryce Canyon National Park, UT 1980

Elevating the family snapshot into the realm of fine art, photographer Roger Minick catalogs the hurried and delirious crowds of tourists visiting American landmarks in the early 1980s. For Sightseer, Minick and his wife traveled from site to site in search of eccentric characters posed against such destinations as the majestic Yosemite National Park, historic Yellowstone National Park, or the austere gabbro walls of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial.

While teaching at the Ansel Adams Workshops at Yosemite, Minick was taken by the hoards of sightseers, the transient families that seemed to emerge onto the landscape and then vanish once they had captured the perfect, smiling snapshot. His first trip around the country was chronicled in black and white, but when he found that ineffable tourist weirdness missing from the sober gray tones, he made the trip again in 1980-1981, this time with color film in hand. Most of the shots were stolen over the course of a few minutes, in the brief and precious moments hurried travelers afforded him.

Minick’s body of work at times comical, documenting the absurd thrills and anxieties of his subjects, but throughout Sightseer, his gaze remains reverent and gracious. Minick suggests that tourist journeys are akin to religious pilgrimages, offering a meaningful connection to our shared American history. Where the tourist snapshot has the potential for egotism, evidencing the significance of a particular person’s presence before an iconic destination, Minick’s photos speak to the collective “we,” and as strangers from decades past, his subjects represent a larger, more essential human experience with the sublime.

Roger_Minick_19Woman with Hawaiian Shirt at Monument Valley, UT 1980

Roger_Minick_001 Girls in Matching Pink at Sunset Point, Bryce Canyon National Park, UT 1980

Roger_Minick_22Woman Photographing at Many Glacier Hotel, Glacier National Park, MT 1981

Roger_Minick_18 Woman with Binoculars at South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ 1980

Roger_Minick_13 Photographing Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone National Park, WY 1980

Roger_Minick_16Uncle & Nephew at Sunset Point, Bryce Canyon National Park, UT 1981

Roger_Minick_002Couple at Monument Valley, UT 1980

Roger_Minick_11Mother & Son at Minerva’s Terrace, Yellowstone National Park, WY 1980

Roger_Minick_003Couple at Sunset Point, Bryce Canyon National Park, UT 1980

Roger_Minick_03Couple with Matching Shirts, Crater Lake National Park, OR 1980

Roger_Minick_004 Children at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park, WY 1980

Roger_Minick_01Arriving at Overlook, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ 1980

Roger_Minick_21Women with Red Sweater at Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, CA 1981

Roger_Minick_1Couple Taking Polaroids, Crater Lake National Park, OR 1980

Roger_Minick_12Sleeper Tour Bus at Goulding, AZ 1980

Roger_Minick_20Woman with Scarf at Inspiration Point, Yosemite National Park, CA 1980

  • Mike

    The people almost look like they were cut & pasted into the scene – too much sharpening perhaps? Regardless, what fun and interesting set of images!

  • Renato † Santos

    i believe its about the dynamic range of the film, not the sharp.

  • http://www.karenwink.com karen wink

    Are some of these photos pre-1980? Some of the cameras shown are more 60’s/70’s

  • melanie

    Ha! Roger Minick’s photographs challenge those of Martin Parr. A wonderfully fresh and original viewpoint, and a delightful excavation of the recent past.

  • Paultee

    Might be fill-flash, too. If these were taken on a medium format (likely) with a leaf shutter, you could totally sync a flash to fire at higher speeds than we’re even used to today.

  • shahnyboy

    Not quite the dynamic range of the film.
    He set his camera exposure for the background then added hard front light which gives the photo the full range to the viewer.

  • Kerry Harpham

    Martin Parr’s range is far more diverse and there is sometimes a seediness and a kind of self-awareness about his subjects. This work is too samey and straightforward to challenge Parr’s supremacy as a social documentarian.

  • melanie

    I have to disagree. Parr’s work was innovative, fresh, brilliant when he was making the early B&W work in Northern England. His color photographs of New Brighton was excellent, as were the couple of color projects that followed. But for the past 15 years or so he’s really just been publishing books of ho-hum images. Luckily for him, his name has currency.