Roger Minick started photographing sightseers during two cross-country trips in the early 1980s and completed the series in the late 1990s. On his website, he says he was initially drawn to the strange rituals of mass tourism: the way coaches of people would turn up at famous sights and hustle “not only for a clear view of the famous vista but also for the obligatory snapshot of themselves proving they were there.”
He admits to feeling disdain at first, as if the sightseers are merely ticking a box and not really taking in what is before them. But he says that feeling fell away after seeing the ritual acted out again and again. After a while, he began to see the “striking cross section of humanity” and “something uniquely American, something that I suddenly very much wanted to photograph.”
The full Sightseer Series takes in dozens of lookout points from the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls, to the Alamo and Crazy Horse Memorial. On his first trip, Minick worked in black and white, but then switched to color, preferring the effect. The result is a gallery of colorful characters backgrounded by even more astounding natural beauty.
In the end, Minick began to think of the sightseers as undergoing a profound, almost religious experience–something akin to a pilgrimage of old.
“They have come seeking something deeper, beyond themselves, and are finding it in this moment of visitation,” he writes. “For as with all pilgrimages, they have made the journey, they have arrived, and are now experiencing the quickening sense of recognition and affirmation, that universal sense of a shared past and present.”