For me, stumbling across Roger Minick’s archive of photographs of sightseers at tourist destinations is akin to opening an old box in the attic and finding a heap of jewels stashed in it. The Sightseers Series began in 1976, when while teaching photography workshops in Yosemite National Park, Roger was distracted by the hordes of visitors posing for photographs in front of the views.
“I found myself becoming increasingly fascinated with these visitors, recognising what a striking cross section of humanity they were,” he explains in his Field Notes, a comprehensive report about the project. “Previously in my photographic career, when my projects took me into the landscape, I had tended to look on sightseers with disdain, and certainly had never considered them a ‘subject’ I would want to photograph seriously. Yet over the course of those days I began to feel I was witnessing something uniquely American.”
Newly enchanted by his subject, this discovery led to Roger to undertake an intense and extensive study of sightseers across the US. “Three years later I finally set out with my wife Joyce Perrin in our VW camper on a road trip around the western United States, with the sole purpose of photographing sightseers,” he explains. Initially Roger photographed the visitors in monochrome, but he soon realised that “the irony and humor I had seen in the vivid colours of the people’s dress juxtaposed against the surrounding landscape, with its infinite palette, was getting lost in black and white.”
So the following year they set out again, retracing their route in order for Roger to work in colour. “During the years I worked on the Sightseer Series I devised my own way of working. With a flash-mounted medium-format camera around my neck, I would spend long hours staked out at overlooks, looking to match up just the right person or couple or group with just the right background – always searching for that particular elusive ‘something’ that constitutes a compelling image… Over time I even came up with theories based on my observations – my favourite: those families who were the best colour co-ordinated seemed to get along the best!”
The Sightseer Series is a perfect amalgamation of those magical factors which make for a truly compelling archive; strong characters look happily out at the camera, backed by some of the most famous monuments in the world. The saturated images are so archetypal in their depiction of the American subject that they almost feel staged; the fact that they’re not, of course, only makes them arresting. See the rest of this fantastic series, and read Roger’s Field Notes in full over on his website.