San Francisco

Roger Minick

Grapestake Gallery

The “Sightseer Series,” a collection of photographs taken on location in Yellowstone, Yosemite. Bryce Canyon and other western National Parks, is Roger Minick’s contribution to the iconography of tourism. Working predominantly, though not exclusively, in color, Minick has made portraits of individuals, groups and families perched on overlooks in front of the scenic wonders.

Though Minick’s subjects, clad in the usual tourist garb, are ripe for satire, the photographer strives for and achieves an almost Sanderesque solemnity. His people project dignity; the humor results from pictorial counterpoint, from the comic juxtaposition that occurs when tourist is posed against scenic backdrop.

In the most successful pictures nature acquires a postcardlike quality. A woman wearing a scarf with a Yosemite illustration on it poses in front of the same scene: the picture on the scarf appears more visually vibrant than the actual vista. In another picture, Yellowstone’s ejaculating geyser is the backdrop for a subject whose T-shirt reads, in part, “I never get lost.” The irony is that everyone looks a bit lost, or at least incongruous.

One is never certain which is more exotic, the majestic though remote natural landscape or the well-prepared tourists, attired in running suits, emblazoned T-shirts, Bermuda shorts, and carrying the appropriate props: Instamatic cameras, canned beverages and plastic toys. As in his earlier projects on the inhabitants of the Ozarks and the Sacramento River Delta. Minick is here particularly adept at evoking a sense of both the place and the people who frequent it. In the “Sightseer Series,” however, the only weakness is the black-and-white photographs. Bereft of color photography’s inherent reference to vernacular modes and its descriptiveness, these become especially somber and uncontemporaneously classical.

In a written statement Minick compares these environmental spectacles to the historical/religious shrines of Europe and the Middle East, and I think there is a ritualistic purposefulness behind the tourist excursions that Minick has captured. Though the photographs do read a bit like one-line jokes, Minick’s clear vision nevertheless makes one wonder if there isn’t more cultural significance to these trips than superficially meets the eye.

Hal Fischer