Yosemite People "For the first time, a photographer is entering Yosemite as the WPA documentary photographers of the 1930s might, with a shifted priority on people rather than on nature." -Carol McCusker, Curator of Photography at the Harn Museum of Art According to the National Park Service, Yosemite National Park has more than four million annual visitors, supported by thousands of local rangers, workers, and volunteers. This makes Yosemite a shifting metropolis. “I was inspired to explore this ‘city’ and bring my street photography to the wilderness,” Kulikauskas states. Kulikauskas visited Yosemite nineteen times over the course of two years. He confined the project to the formal boundaries of the park and did not have special access or privileges.
The concept for Yosemite People was sparked by chance while I waited for my oatmeal in the grand dining room of the historic Ahwahnee Hotel in January 2014. As I was enjoying the scenery of Yosemite National Park through sixteen-foot-tall windows, a member of the wait staff crossed in front of me, obstructing my view. With one clean, crisp motion, she threw a tablecloth into the air and neatly laid it flat. She then proceeded to painstakingly iron out the creases with her hands. I could feel the care being transferred to the next guest. It was lovely. I reached for my camera and took a shot. Although views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls were mere steps away, my preference was to photograph this person . . . this moment. Inspired, I ran with this theme and returned to the park with my 35mm camera nineteen times over a two-year period. Of the four million annual Yosemite visitors I observed, there seemed to be a shared, unwritten agreement stating, “Let’s all hurry to the same place to be alone.” The locals on the other hand have a quiet strength and humility. They serve weekend warriors, accept modest living quarters, and coexist in a tightly knit community. The payoff, of course, is waking up every morning in a proverbial paradise. When I wasn’t photographing people, I began focusing on their impact on the park and contemplating the many changes happening in Yosemite. Wawona Hotel is now called Big Trees Lodge. Horseback riding tours at the Yosemite Valley Stables have been discontinued. After fifty-six years, master basket weaver Julia Parker has retired from service at the Yosemite Museum. I also see many traditions continuing as my new friends share their ancestral gifts with the public as cultural demonstrators. The question most asked of me about Yosemite is: “When should I go?” Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Just go. Really. Yosemite never lets me down.