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Who are these tourists, where do they come from, and why do they foul up my morning commute? Anyone who’s lived in a big city knows the feeling of working in Disneyland, and anyone who’s visited one probably brought a camera. Aislinn Leggett’s series “I Am Tourist” takes on the wonder of tourism, zip-off shorts and all.

Leggett was born in 1981, and grew up on a small farm in Namur, Quebec. At the age of 17, she moved to Montreal where she later completed her studies at the Dawson College Institute of Photography. She continues to create visual art, approaching her work through two styles, traditional black-and-white documentary photography and color photo-montage. All images © Aislinn Leggett, courtesy of the artist.

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So why are we all so obvious when we travel?

In my opinion, what people take pictures of really gives them away. No, tourists don’t blend easily and I don’t think we ever will be able to, and I don’t think we should. We pack our favorite items in suitcases and leave behind our routines and comfort. We are completely off-kilter and feel out of place. We let go in a way that our normal lives inhibit us, and the leisure-ness and awkwardness of traveling makes it quite beautiful.

I think there are two distinct groups when it comes to traveling: tourists and travelers. I think the travelers try harder to absorb the culture, while tourists travel to consume it.

How did the series come about?

I’ve always considered myself more of a traveler, taking the back roads, finding the special restaurant where only locals dine, really wanting to feel the culture. But this whole time—who was I kidding! A travel guide book in my day pack, visiting all the main attractions, snapping a quick picture—this is me holding up the leaning tower of Pisa! I mean come on, everyone does this.

I realized most of this on a trip in November 2006. I traveled to see, to experience, and to learn and that involved the back roads and the local culture but it also involved the main tourist attractions. Travelers often see tourists in a negative way but no matter how hard we try, we’re all tourists—myself included. So I became an incognito tourist. I started to observe them. They arrive in packs and hordes, they come off the bus and it’s really overwhelming. They consume, pack in as much as they can—pictures, food, drinks, pictures, souvenirs, a tour guide, more pictures—all in a relatively short period of time. I found this really impressive—honest.

With so many major cities and historical locations deriving their main sustenance from tourism, what comes next? When will we see Tourism 2.0?

Tourism, I think, will become a lot more interactive. It has already begun. We can see around the world and not even leave our homes. There are traveling trends for all types of people. But I think standard tourists will be around for a very long time. I think we all at one point in our lives become tourists. I would be very surprised to see a dip in picture-taking of the Eiffel Tower.

Taking pictures of people taking pictures—does that make you twice removed from the setting?

No, I think it involves me that much more. It makes it really interesting to share that moment with a complete stranger in a foreign city. Also to observe people’s reactions to their surroundings and how they take everything in makes it a pretty unique moment. While they focus on the attractions, I focus on them—they, in turn, become my tourist attraction. It’s almost a bonding experience. We’re all taking pictures at the same time. I would be curious to see how many pictures I’m in, though.

Any thoughts on why people purchase special jungle clothing when visiting world capitals?

Well, you have to be ready for any situation and if that means zip-off shorts and using your money belt as a slingshot, hey—anything goes! No, I think the zip-off shorts are quite good, you get a two-in-one. What I really find quirky are the couples that wear matching T-shirts, coats and hats.

What are you working on now?

I have some fun projects brewing. “I Am a Tourist” is an ongoing project, where at this point I’m trying to become a tourist in my own city, Montreal. I am also in the middle of a project titled “Lost Faces,” working with old photographs for which I received funding from the Quebec Council of the Arts. And I always have my camera with me, so I’m continuously shooting.


Rosecrans Baldwin co-founded TMN with publisher Andrew Womack in 1999. His latest book is Everything Now: Lessons From the City-State of Los Angeles. More information can be found at More by Rosecrans Baldwin