Anthrow Circus

Interacting With Art: A Catalog of Tourists in Italy

Tourists taking pictures with the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Photo by JC Johnson.


While it wasn’t officially an Anthrow Circus travel tour, the fact that our editor, Kami Rice, and I, Anthrow Circus’s creative director, were in Italy together made it nearly so. Fitting well with Anthrow Circus’s love of investing in burgeoning writers and photographers and artists, we embarked on a photography study tour as mentors to a group of my just-graduated high school students. Given their new status as legal “adults,” the goal was to give them access to sites, history, and art while also giving them a taste of responsibility as they explored and interacted with famous Italy.

I had designed this trip around the interests of students who are all artists, whether visual artists, performance artists, or physical artists (my word for athletes) who had been taught to appreciate art. As artists, we hoped to interact with the art we saw in a personal and intense way. But in order to pull off the organization of the trip, I engaged the services of an educational tour company. Thus, as a 16-person group whose tour was managed by a tour director used to planning itineraries for non-artists, we found ourselves trying to make peace with constricting-feeling experiences that were more normal-tourist than we preferred.

When abroad, I’m usually traveling by myself, and Kami is used to interacting with Europe on her own terms since she’s based there. So being part of a group tour isn’t our usual traveling style, and we’d hoped for the students to experience some of the sense of behind-the-scenes discovery we do when we travel, a form of cultural engagement that is the ethos behind the stories we publish on Anthrow Circus.

But this trip was different, and we and the students had to engage with Italy under parameters largely determined by the tour company. We found ourselves caught in the constant frustration of trying to gain freedom from the typical tour experience while also needing to submit to the work (which we appreciated!) the tour company did to organize details so we didn’t have to worry about them. In some ways, we were definitely typical tourists, but in other ways we weren’t. We discovered the push and pull of traveling as a group, meeting everyone’s needs and desires, and staying engaged in productive ways.

On a couple occasions, for example, I was photographing tourists at the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the next day at Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, just as I did in my Anthrow Circus article “How To View Art.” Inspired by photographers like Martin Parr, I still enjoy watching tourists be tourists.

But as our group tour of Italy continued, it became clearer to me that we were those tourists. We may have thought we were special, and in some ways, we were. But simultaneously, we were also them. We weren’t always the same type of tourist, in that we played different tourist roles, but still, at some point, we were those tourists.

This experience had me mulling about all the different types of tourist characters, especially when tourists are interacting with art and architecture. And so, this little compendium was born.


The INFLUENCER: The Influencer is excellent at making things look believable and one of a kind. They are romantics and have no problem repeating the same position repeatedly. They strive to be the first to experience something and hope to show everyone else how to do it. They think they are the original and make us believe no one else is around. Sometimes they can look like idiots.

The PONDERER: The Ponderer is more than likely an intellectual trying to notice small details and how they are relevant to the history of the world. They get hypnotized by the experience. They tend to look intensely at something and then get caught up in the smallest facets while trying to explain the meaning of life, history, religion, and politics. The Ponderer sometimes gets so engrossed in their thoughts that they can often lose the group.

The CONFORMER: Conformers don’t want to make all the decisions and just want a nice vacation. They like to travel in groups, and they like to watch everyone else’s social cues for to how to respond in a place. They are respectful and generally happy to go with the flow, and they rarely wander off the path.

The CONNOISSEUR & The COLLECTOR: Connoisseurs love eating, drinking, and shopping. They love to consume and bring back gifts, wine, and stories to share at the dinner table. Experiencing the meals and beverages of the region is extremely important, but so is finding a gift to embarrass your mother. The Collector likes to find and experience the odd thing while on the trip. Instead of finding gifts in the gift shop, they want to take home a rock, a flower, or a restaurant menu. Their memories and their experience of their trip can be stored in whatever object they collect at that location, and they keep track of things like the nicest bathroom they’ve used. They are fairly likely to have a collection of salt and pepper shakers from rest stops around the world.

The JOKESTER: The Jokester likes to make people laugh and sometimes mocks norms. They are confident and generally happy to be a part of any activity, as long as at least one person in the group is seen shaking their head while watching them.

The ARTIST: The Artist usually wanders away from the group. They notice things and want to take their time to photograph or sketch what they see. The Artist hates it when someone suggests what they should notice and hates being on someone else’s schedule.

The OBSTRUCTOR: The Obstructor is enjoying themselves so much that they often don’t notice their effect on other people in their surroundings. They are the unidentified person interrupting your vacation photos. They walk too slow on the sidewalks, stand on the wrong side of the escalator, and generally take up more space than anyone else. But the Obstructor probably had a much better vacation than you.

The DOCUMENTER: The Documenter takes pictures of people, places, and things. They take pictures to show their family and friends, and they document their existence in a location and experience. They take selfies and group shots and photos of their meal to post on Facebook or Instagram or Snap Chat…or any other social media platform I’m too old to know about.

JC Johnson, Anthrow Circus's creative director, spends most of her time as a photography and arts instructor in Nashville, Tennessee. She is often overwhelmed with wanderlust, photographs internationally, and has a passion for travel and study abroad as both an artist and instructor. Her photographic work makes associations to childhood as well as to the nostalgic and the whimsical. Common themes in her photography include European architecture and history, fashion, travel, toys, and miniatures.

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