As a teenager I remember sitting around a booth in a diner for hours… and hours, (almost as much time as we spent driving around aimlessly, that’s another story). At some point we would get board, there is only so much rehashing of small events you can take. Someone would say, “well, what do we have?” We would empty out our pockets and put everything on the table, change, gum, pens, notes, someone always had a lighter, and we would try to figure out what we could do with all the stuff. If we were outside this devolved into a rousing game of ‘what melts, what burns?!’ It was fair game to use anything already on the table, so sugar melts and powdered creamer burns (you can actually make a pretty good sized flame if you sprinkle it from above onto the lighter). We became really good at entertaining ourselves with what we had close at hand.
This photo series from Nina Katchadourian reminds me of that game, because that is essentially the game she played on a 14 hour flight to New Zealand. She made several trips to the lavatory and created this hilarious series of self portraits.
The idea began on a flight in 2010; she spontaneously put a paper toilet seat cover over her head and took a photo in the bathroom mirror using her cellphone. I know nothing else about this woman, but the fact that she is the kind of person who spontaneously puts on a toilet seat cover and then documents it, makes her pretty awesome.
She realized that it kind of looked like a 15th century Flemish portrait. OK, sure.
So, on the way to Auckland, she “improvised with materials close at hand” and created this series. Basically, she uses the paper products in the lavatory and a few other props (the use of a neck pillow is inspired). She did hang a scarf on the wall behind her in several to create a deep background, but only used her cell phone camera and the lighting in the bathroom.
She knew she was going to do this on the long flight, so she had probably done some research and had some general ideas, but the number and variation is amazing.
This series makes me so happy. It’s her commitment that sells it. She knows it’s hilarious, but we don’t see even a hint of a smile.
All photos from Nina Katchadourian’s website
Portrait of a Lady from the National Gallery
Portrait of a Woman from the Barnes Foundation