Japanese Canyon Photo Op













On Saturday June 17th 2000, I made my fourth pilgrimage to the Grand Canyon. In 1974 and in 1991, I hiked into the canyon to Phantom Ranch on the canyon's floor. In 1977 and this recent trip, I just stood on the edge and looked in. My first three trips there were off-season, but this last trip had me dodging tour busses and fighting for a line of sight over gawking tourists all along the rim (I of course, am a naturalist, not a tourist).

I had noticed on my previous trips the attraction the canyon seemed to hold for Japanese tourists in particular. But that observation had not prepared me for the preponderance of Japanese tourists among gawkers on this day. As if to validate my casual observation, I came upon a park ranger, very much a local by his western attire and appearance, addressing a large group of Japanese tourists...in Japanese! It would seem the park administrators had made the same observation as had I, and seen fit to employ a Japanese-speaking cowboy (where do you find those?) for just such occasions.

When not being lectured at by bilingual cowboys, the Japanese tourists seemed to cluster in small groups of 4-6 people, with six being the preferred number, adorned with their ubiquitous cameras. I hope I will be forgiven for this bit of stereotyping, but there was not a single identifiable Japanese tourist there who didn't have at least one camera. You can hardly blame them considering the canyon is one of the most photo worthy of our natural wonders.

Curiously enough, very few of them seemed intent on photographing the canyon itself. Most photo shots were composed of groups of two, three or four of their fellow Japanese tourists with the canyon as a handy backdrop, probably an attempt to document their travels for the folks back home. The propinquity of clicking cameras, like crickets on a warm night was, was penetrating my tranquil mood, and diverting my naturalist intentions.

At one point, I found myself on a small wall-contained lookout off the side of a gift shop called "The Studio." I was surrounded by the requisite cluster of six Japanese tourists who were busily working out he protocol sequence for the photo-shoot for that location. I couldn't understand a word they said, but I could intuitively follow the logic of their actions. Six people photographed one at a time with a backdrop of the canyon is the easy first step. Then there were people who wished to cement their friendships with travel companions by more personal pairings. But the protocol of politeness requires that to avoid slighting anyone you must have your photo taken with each of the other five in your group of six. It turns out that you can accomplish a complete paring in a group of six with only 15 posings. Photos taken of groups of three, on the other hand required 20 additional posings. The complete set of four at a time, added 15 more posings, and finally groups of five were accomplished with only 5 additional posings, 62 posings in all. Despite my presence in the midst of this photo-symphony, no one asked me to do the obvious, that is take a photo of all six posed together. In fact, aside from their polite patience with me as I moved around the lookout pretending to enjoy the view, they barely acknowledged me at all.

Did I say 62? Well, that assumes only one camera at a time and one shot for each posing. If everyone wants a copy of each shot, as appeared to be the case, that's six times 62 or 372 shutter clicks. Then allowing for multiple takes and the fact that there 1.5 cameras per tourist, the actual number of shots was closer to a thousand.

By now you are wondering why I stayed on the lookout in the midst of all of this photo-mania. The truth is that I was fascinated and in some way became a part of it all. At first I politely avoided being in the viewing line of the cameras, but at some point I changed my tactic and wanted to be in the picture. I started moving around deliberately so that I was always somewhere lurking in the background of each shot trying desperately to be part of it all. I was so successful that I expect soon to be viewable in a number of significant private photo collections throughout Japan.

My crowning moment came on the shuttle bus which was conveying "my" group back to the visitors center, when a young woman two seats ahead of me on the bus turned and pointed her Nikon backwards to catch a shot of her father who was one seat in front of me. I slid forward in my seat and positioned my head over his right shoulder wearing dark glasses and a Grand Canyon baseball hat and smiled for the final take.

 A Nikon moment.

Gene Ziegler