There she sits -- cross-legged and shoeless in a mod, white leather chair, powdering her cheeks and gazing into a tiny mirror -- taking us back to a time when travel was all about glamour and romance.
But no. It turns out "Sara" is one in a series of nostalgic, color-drenched shots that hearken back to the "coffee, tea or me" era -- all taken in the last five years by photographer Brian Finke and on exhibit at the Stephen Cohen Gallery in Los Angeles.
The subculture Finke has captured on film is filled with the form-fitting dresses, carefully knotted scarves, perfectly pinned hair and carefree attitude that are a million frequent flier miles away from the harried unpleasantness and anxiety of today's delays, baggage fees and Homeland Security searches.
But Finke was intrigued to find that the catwalk at 30,000 feet still exists. He started out shooting the baggy khakis of Southwest and short-shorts of Hooters Air. "But pretty quickly I realized I wanted to go overseas and photograph something that was more nostalgic and more traditional than what we have here," he says. "That took me to Europe and then Asia, where the fashion sensibility is more like something out of the '50s with the scarves, the capes and the hats."
Finke embedded himself with long-haul crews for a few days at a time, capturing the sea of shimmery stockings, pillbox hats and ruby lips in the moments between stowing tray tables and closing overhead bins. In one shot, two Asia Air attendants play billiards in a terminal lounge wearing bright red dresses. In another, a Cathay Pacific Airways flight attendant smooths every last hair in place. (For the record, Finke thinks the crews of the Asia-based airlines have the most fashion sense.)
Finke, who's based in New York, has explored iconic subcultures before, in projects about cheerleaders and football players. So, what's next?
"After traveling around and photographing predominantly female flight attendants, my wife had this idea that I should go out and shoot construction workers," he says. "So I may be spending some time this summer at construction sites around New York City shooting guys."
"Flight Attendants" is on exhibit through Aug. 2 at the Stephen Cohen Gallery, 7358 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 937-5525. The photos are also collected in a book of the same name (powerHouse Books, 2008, $35).