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Pretzels and Neck Pillows: Airplane Photography Tools of the Trade

High Altitude, a photo by Nina Katchadourian

Here’s a challenge for those of us who tend to get stir-crazy at 30,000 feet: Rather than fidgeting or yawning through mediocre “in-flight entertainment,” why not make art?

That’s the question Nina Katchadourian, a visual artist and clinical assistant professor at Gallatin, first asked herself on a flight from New York to Atlanta in 2010. Eager to convert idle transit hours into additional work time, she mined her purse and the seatback pocket in front of her for material.

The works she created on that flight—all photographs taken on her cellphone camera—became the start of “Seat Assignment,” a series of thousands of pictures she’s taken on more than a hundred airplane trips since then. Pretzels piled atop in-flight magazine spreads yield whimsical landscapes. Paper towels serve as handy props for self-portraits (taken in the airplane lavatory) in the style of 15th-century Flemish masters.

Organized by theme—from “window seat suprematism” to “high-altitude spirit photography”—Katchadourian’s miniatures remind us of the essential oddity of air travel. Is there not, among the tiny bags of peanuts and the seat cushions that double as flotation devices, a whiff of the absurd?

View a sampling of Katchadourian’s images in the slideshow above, learn more at her website, and think of her the next time you find yourself in the middle seat, contemplating a sudden loss in cabin pressure.

Top image: Ghost from “Seat Assignment” (2010 and ongoing). Courtesy of the artist and Catharine Clark gallery.

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