See America First! is a documentary photo essay and travelogue that illustrates the present-day identity of tourism in the American West, nearly a century after the original See America First campaign was launched.
When World War I shut down overseas travel in the early 20th century, the Great Nothern Railway created a marketing campaign to inspire Americans to plan their next vacation closer to home. Ads were launched combating the idea that only beautiful places existed in foreign countries (Glacier National Park, for example, was promoted as “America’s Switzerland”). This campaign – See America First – created a national tourism identity and defined the culture of traveling in the American West.
With the spirit of the original campaign at the forefront of my mind, I felt called to bring a contemporary voice to one of the defining characteristics of our country: the national parks. Every summer, I retrace the road trips from my childhood and photograph travelers throughout the region of the West, pieced together by today’s version of the railway system – our scenic highways and byways. I seek to answer questions like: What are the visual touchstones of culture in the American West? What makes something iconic? How do we, as travelers, transform our awe and wonder into a relationship with the land? If we listen to the land, will this make us better at listening to each other?
Travelers know that the parks system is built for them – it is a touchstone for creating memories across multiple generations. We are land-rich; to be American is to inherit the transformative beauty of these places, and then pass down that inheritance with precious care and grace. See America First! shares this uniquely American experience with those who have yet to feel this rich and undulating tapestry, and those so familiar with it that they can conjure those images in dreams.