When embarking on a long-haul flight and faced with the perspective of spending the next 10 hours stuck in the same tiny economy-class seat, most of us will attempt to combat boredom watching the latest releases, flipping through a magazine or listening to a few podcasts. The wild cats out there might even take advantage of the free airplane booze available to get heavily drunk and monologue incoherently to their unlucky neighbour, before dozing off on the poor guy’s shoulder.


However, not many people have as peculiar a plane hobby as Nina Katchadourian: this California-born (and Brooklyn-based) photographer takes advantage of the many empty hours ahead of her to make… lavatory self-portraits in the Flemish style.


How does one come up with such an incongruous idea? «While in the lavatory on a domestic flight in March 2010, I spontaneously put a tissue paper toilet cover seat cover over my head and took a picture in the mirror using my cellphone», she says on her website. As the image evoked the style of 15th-century portraits by Flemish masters, Nina turned this impromptu discovery into a long-term photography project.


Since 2010, she has been accumulating a worryingly large (over 2 500 pieces of work) collection of these bizarre and often comical portraits, locking herself inside plane bathrooms with no other material than airplane pillows, blankets and toilet seat covers. All photographs are taken with her phone camera, and using the lavatory’s grim spotlights for lighting.


And to make things even more fun, Nina has developed a few other series to nurture her Seat Assignment project: she also makes seatbelt buckle portraits, creates lilliputian-size disasters using plane snacks and airline magazines, or fabricates gorilla faces with blankets.


Moral of this story: there is always a way to get creative with the material that surrounds you, no matter how limited… It just takes a little insanity imagination to fill up those long flight hours!

All photos by Nina Katchadourian (used with permission), except photo 1 via .Liketobite on Flickr

Nina’s gallery:  Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco

Erratum: While the ‘Seat Assignment’ project does consist of 2500+ photographs, the Flemish series itself only includes 19 self-portraits and is now complete (thanks Nina for this clarification).

mariecolinettravelettesMarie Colinet was part of the Travelettes team from 2013 to 2015. Originally from Toulouse, France, two years lived in Australia left her speaking English with an awkward Fraussie accent. In September 2015, Marie is starting the epic 6-month-or-who-knows-how-long road-trip along the Panamerican Highway that she’s been dreaming of since her teenage years — all the way from the U.S. to the very tip of South-America. You can follow her on Instagram @mariecolinet!