Ordinary lives of air hostesses through lens

13:55, April 07, 2010      

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An air hostess making sure her hair is all nicely tucked in, and all make-up is in place, before taking to the aisle.Photos by Wang Lin / for China Daily

Nine out of 10 people, picked at random and asked what image the mention of air hostess conjures up in their minds, would probably say, "beautiful", "well-traveled", "flashy clothes", or even "married to rich men".

But talk to Wang Lin, and you will get a very different picture.

Carrying herself with briskness and elegance, her attire is anything but flashy.

Sporting a white knee-high windbreaker, a pair of dark trousers, flat shoes and plain silk scarf, she could easily be mistaken for a student of the China Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA).

Wang is a 37-year-old air hostess, who trains her lens on the ordinary lives behind the immaculate images of air service staff, have recently catapulted her into the media spotlight.

These pictures she posted on her blog show the girls changing clothes, playing poker in their pajamas, even sleeping in their underwear. Their dorms are far from tidy and nudity is not uncommon.

In another series, Wang posts the real names and real stories of her colleagues under their displayed photos.

Some of Wang Lin's pictures like this one overturn the stereotypical view of air hostesses as prim and proper, and always immaculately dressed.

"People usually hold a stereotypical view of air hostesses," she says. "We are often portrayed as addicted to cosmetics, fancy clothes and even rich men."

But, in fact, most of them are just ordinary folk, Wang says. She is also candid enough to attribute the popularity of her blog in large part to people's voyeuristic instincts.

"I don't know exactly what motivates them to click on these photos online," she says, "but I guess some of it is just curiosity."

Some of the early pictures on her blog generated more than 13,000 page views overnight, she says.

This interest in air hostesses' everyday life, perhaps, has to do with the immaculate image they present before the public. Although China's airline industry has come a long way, the number of air hostesses is still quite small and the competition to enter this profession remains stiff.

A recent drive by China Southern Airlines to recruit 1,000 air hostesses, ahead of the Guangzhou Asian Games, attracted 10,000 applicants.

The dorms of the air hostesses are often cluttered and sloppy.

But how was Wang able to win the trust of her colleagues for her candid shots?

"She is a very caring woman," Liu Tiantian, one of her colleagues who became an air hostess three years ago, tells China Daily. "She has been in this industry for 17 years, but does not let her seniority come in the way of her dealings with us. She treats me as an equal at work.

"She just tries to show what our daily lives are like," Liu adds. "Her photos are a reflection of her own personality - frank, straightforward, and more importantly, genuine."

Another colleague Lin Hao even admits his homosexuality in one of her blog entries.

"This is mutual respect and mutual trust at play," he says, "When you are shown respect and trust, you return it."

While her colleagues and others have praised her courage and her photography, her instructors at the academy say it resembles of Nan Goldin, the renowned American documentary photographer. Some photographers have criticized her photos as being "too gray".

"They think the pictures aren't bright enough," Wang says. "They say seeing the girls in casual clothes, and in their sloppy dorms, could damage the images of air hostesses."

Dismissing them, Wang says: "I want to be true to myself and true to life."

Wang joined the then China Xinhua Airlines in 1992 and served for 10 years before the company was merged into Hainan Airlines in 2001. It was then that she decided to enroll in CAFA to polish her photography skills.

It was during her time at the academy that the idea of recording the daily lives of air service personnel, especially air hostesses, gradually evolved.

"The thought of capturing the real lives of air hostesses has always been at the back of my mind," she says.

So, two years after graduation, she found herself up in the sky with the newly established Okay Airways, the nation's first privately-run airline.

Looking ahead, she says she plans to continue her flying career for a couple more years.

"I am employed as an air hostess and I will remain professional as long as I am in this position," she says, "but photography will definitely be a part of my future."

Source: China Daily (By Qi Xiao)


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