The idea of tourism has recently been at the surface of my thoughts, this has been for a couple of reasons: myself being in a foreign country and having traveled recently as a tourist, I feel I have played this role, to varying degrees, a fair bit, secondly with the build up and subsequent kind of disillusionment of the 2012 London Olympics there is a real sensitivity to this archetype, here are some thoughts on the matter.
Tourism has long been a subject of cultural and philosophical discussion across decades and disciplines, from John Ruskin’s early travel guides, to contemporary artists (many photographers) such as Martin Parr and Wim Wenders. What is not a typical focal point in the discussion is the clothing of a tourist. By nature, fashion and place are almost at polar opposites, fashion: fleeting, evasive and by definition, undefinable, holding only the body accountable as a reference point. In contrast a place is fixed, it has an address and it is completely absolute and all encompassing. And aesthetically a tourist is distinctive, in fact, so much of the experience of being a tourist is about how you are presented in a place, it is therefore, as with the experience of most fashion shames, a response to one’s own appearance that is the experience of ‘feeling’ like a tourist. Therefore the clothes of a tourist are so integral in the circumstances of a tourist, something I have certainly been conscious of as a traveller, a (usually) uncomfortable awareness of oneself in a setting, and experiencing the tension of this disparity or lack of reconciliation in a place. It is an awareness of our own visibility, really, of how we look, and more importantly, how we should look.
And so being a tourist is bodily: the focus of attention is on oneself and it is a self-absorbed experience, being separated, to a certain degree from a place. These disconnections and disparities are more than likely to be attributed negative values. However I think, as with many instances of shame in fashion, the experience should be more readily embraced and accepted as a valuable, as for accepting the tourists in our place, maybe they could be considered as permanent ‘citizens’ of a place or city somehow, a permanent fixture that is in a constant state of change and transit, because like fashion, they are here to stay.
Roger Minick ‘Woman with Scarf at Inspiration Point, Yosemite’ (1980)