Vintage Photos From Iconic American Spots Show Just How Odd Tourists Can Be

Family at Grand Tetons National Park WY 1980 e1336769750879Roger MinickFamily at Grand Tetons National Park, WY 1980

In 1976, Roger Minick was teaching young photographers at the Ansel Adams Workshops in Yosemite National Park when he first encountered a species of people he lovingly refers to as “
Sightseer Americanus.”

He recalls wave after wave of tourists coming to Inspiration Point in Yosemite to take snapshots in front of the site to prove that they were there. While he had often viewed tourists as a nuisance, he now saw that they were perhaps the most interesting subject, a representation of a uniquely American phenomenon.

He and his wife headed out on a road trip, not to photograph scenic spots as Ansel Adams would have done, but instead to turn the camera on tourists at top American destinations. Over the decades, he has taken many trips for that specific purpose.

These photos, between 15 and 30 years old, have taken on a time-capsule quality, documenting Americans across generations who make the pilgrimage to have their photo taken in front of the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, and other iconic sites.

Minick shared some of his photos with us here. You can see more at his website or purchase the book here.

Minick and his wife’s first road trip in 1979 sent them through the western United States in a Volkswagen camper.

Family at Lower Falls Overlook Yellowstone National Park WY 19801Roger MinickFamily at Lower Falls Overlook, Yellowstone National Park, WY 1980
Roger minick sightseer american tourists picSightseer Series/Roger MinickCouple at Monument Valley, UT 1980.
Roger minick sightseer american tourists picSightseer Series/Roger MinickTour to Crazy Horse, SD 1999.

The photographs during that trip were shot in black and white. Minick says that a lot of the humour intended in his photos was lost in black and white, so he and his wife retraced their steps in 1980. That time he shot in colour.

At Statue of Liberty NY 20001

Roger Minick
At Statue of Liberty, NY 2000

Family Taking Rubbing at Vietnam Memorial on The Mall Washington DC 20001Roger MinickFamily Taking Rubbing at Vietnam Memorial on The Mall, Washington, DC 2000
Roger minick sightseer american tourists picSightseer Series/Roger MinickWoman with Hawaiian Shirt at Monument Valley, UT 1980.

Minick used a medium-format camera with a flash. Using the flash had the effect of flattening the background of the image so that it almost looks like a backdrop.

Women with Red Sweater at Glacier Point Yosemite National Park CA 19811

Roger Minick
Women with Red Sweater at Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, CA 1981

Group Photograph at United States Capitol Washington DC 20001Roger MinickGroup Photograph at United States Capitol, Washington, DC 2000
Roger minick sightseer american tourists picSightseer Series/Roger MinickMother & Daughter at Carhenge, NE 1998.

Minick would often wait for hours at each tourist attraction looking for a person or group that had that “elusive ‘something'” that made the photograph particularly compelling.

Flag Man at The Mall Washington DC 19992 (1)Roger MinickFlag Man on The Mall, Washington, DC 1999
Uncle Nephew at Sunset Point Bryce Canyon National Park UT 19811Roger MinickUncle & Nephew at Sunset Point, Bryce Canyon National Park, UT 1981

Sometimes it was their mode of travel or possessions that attracted him. Other times, like here, it was a clothing item.

Family Wearing Hawaiian Shirts Mt. Rushmore SD 19981

Roger Minick
Family Wearing Hawaiian Shirts, Mt. Rushmore, SD 1998

Photographing Old Faithful Geyser Yellowstone National Park WY 19802Roger MinickPhotographing Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone National Park, WY 1980
Roger minick sightseer american tourists picSightseer Series/Roger MinickBoy with Feathered Headress at Lower Falls Overlook, Yellowstone National Park, WY 1980.

Over the years, Minick developed theories about tourists based on his observations. His favourite theory was that families that had matching outfits got along the best.

Twins with Matching Outfits at Lower Falls Overlook Yellowstone National Park WY 19802Roger MinickTwins with Matching Outfits at Lower Falls Overlook, Yellowstone National Park, WY 1980
Girls in Matching Pink at Sunset Point Bryce Canyon National Park UT 19801Roger MinickGirls in Matching Pink at Sunset Point, Bryce Canyon National Park, UT 1980

To get people to agree to have their photos taken, Minick would explain his project and then offer to take a professional portrait of them with a Polaroid camera that they could keep.

Man with Dog at Sunset Point Bryce Canyon National Park UT 19801Roger MinickMan with Dog at Sunset Point, Bryce Canyon National Park, UT 1980
Woman with Binoculars at South Rim Grand Canyon National Park AZ 1980 e1336769644857Roger MinickWoman with Binoculars at South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ 1980
Roger minick sightseer american tourists picSightseer Series/Roger MinickKissing Couple atop Empire State Building, NYC 2000.

After road-trips in 1979, 1980, and 1981, Minick did not return to the project until the late 1990s, when he started to visit sites in the Midwest and East coast.

Roger minick sightseer american tourists pic

Sightseer Series/Roger Minick
Father & Son at Crazy Horse Monument, SD 1999

Roger minick sightseer american tourists picSightseer Series/Roger MinickFamily at Mt. Rushmore, SD 1998.

His last road-trip for the project was in 2000. Even those photos have a dated look to them at this point.

Family at Kennedy Space Center Cape Canaveral FL 20001

Roger Minick
Family at Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, FL 2000

Two Women on Brooklyn Bridge NYC 20001 e1336084841758Roger MinickTwo Women on Brooklyn Bridge, NYC 2000

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.