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Work / Photography

Scott Sheffield examines tourism in the small towns surrounding America’s National Parks

Photographer Scott Sheffield’s series Frontiers, explores the tourist culture surrounding small towns in America that are situated at the entrances of its National Parks. These towns were initially developed as a means to provide food and shelter, but over the decades they’ve transformed into holiday destinations, “appropriating American and regional history for their own commercial benefit” and have become removed from the National Park Service.

Scott has travelled the country to document these towns and to get a sense of how they “serve as representations of the tourism industry in America”. “The businesses in place built to serve tourists – motels, attractions, restaurants and souvenir stores – have become the basis for where I stop to take photographs,” explains Scott. “In trying to accurately depict these places I think it’s important to show how these establishments fit into their natural surroundings, which is the main reason so many visitors pass through these towns on their way into or out of the parks.” Cradled by the vast landscapes that surround them, these town buildings look drab, awkward and forlorn in comparison, which is emphasised by the grey, cloudy skies. Scott also focuses on the signage dotted about these places and it’s here where we really get a sense of how regional history is being made into something sellable with references to gold mining, Native American tribes and the natural wildlife being garishly attached to clothing and souvenirs.

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Scott Sheffield: Frontiers

“My first trip was to the Great Smoky Mountains, while partially out of convenience due to its location, I knew I would have plenty of ground to cover and things to photograph in its three relatively large entrance towns: Cherokee (North Carolina), Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge (Tennessee),” says the photographer. “Since then I’ve taken two more trips, one to Utah this past winter to photograph Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon and Zion, and the most recent this spring to the Everglades in Florida.” Scott wakes up early to photograph these towns, free from the hustle and bustle, giving his images an eerie stillness. He camps in a tent or sleeps in the car in “the parking lot of a Wal-Mart or a Waffle House”, just to get the right shot.

“I think a successful photograph does two things: documents a moment in time and elicits some sort of emotional response to the work either due to its subject matter or formal qualities,” says Scott. “While I personally feel a necessity to make photographs that accurately depict a subject, I also attempt to make images that will resonate with the viewer.” The challenges for Scott on this project, like many others, have been time and money, and the limited opportunities he has to spend shooting. “I typically only have a few days to shoot a town that I might not be able to return to for a number of years,” says the photographer.

Through the series, which he hopes to develop, the photographer wants to force viewers to “think about where they go and what they do” when they’re on holiday. “We have already witnessed so much profound irreversible damage done to the natural wonders of our world because of human actions,” says Scott. “I hope that seeing how these establishments impede upon the natural beauty of the National Parks forces us to do what we can to keep these parks intact and well for many future generations.”

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