The INSIDER Summary:
- Molly Choma is a Virgin Airlines flight attendant and photographer.
- She takes pictures of her fellow flight attendants in their downtime for a series called “The Secret Life of Virgins.”
- Photography can be difficult in a plane’s small spaces and low lighting.
- She hopes her photos instill confidence in her subjects.
Her photo series, “The Secret Life of Virgins,” shows a side of flight attendants that passengers don’t usually see, highlighting their camaraderie, humor, and how they spend their downtime.
INSIDER spoke to Choma about how she combines flying and photography.
Molly Choma’s mom was a flight attendant and always kept a camera around, which Choma would tinker with growing up.
She studied graphic design and graduated college with an art degree in 2008.
When she had difficulty finding a job after school, her mom suggested becoming a flight attendant.
For the first few months of the job, she was on “reserve,” waiting at the airport to be assigned to a flight.
She began taking photos at the airport to pass the time.
TSA agents began recognizing her as “the girl with the camera.”
As her passion for photography grew, she wanted to find models to build her portfolio.
“I was thinking ‘Where can I find a bunch of really attractive people that won’t charge me to take photos of them?'” she said.
Then it hit her: she could photograph her fellow Virgin Airlines flight attendants.
“It turned into this fun thing to do that wasn’t serving drinks,” she said of their impromptu photoshoots.
Choma sticks to photographing Virgin Airlines staff and not passengers.
“The highest priority is doing our jobs and making sure people are safe and happy and secure,” she said. “But there can be a lot of downtime.”
Some snapshots of her colleagues are posed, but her favorites capture candid moments.
“The posed ones are sort of a way to start the candid process, to warm them up to a camera being in their face,” she said. “Because it’s literally in their face, there’s not a lot of space.”
Aside from limited space, the lighting on planes isn’t always ideal for photography.
Choma isn’t above using tin foil from first class trays to reflect light on people’s faces.
“And when you’re shooting in low light, your shutter is open for longer, so turbulence is the worst,” she said.
Choma flies about 70 to 100 hours a month and works with different teams of flight attendants for three days at a time.
“I have three days with each group of people to build that trust and build their confidence, and make it more of a fun positive memory of their job, too. Not just something for me to have, but also for them to have, and for their kids to have,” she said.
She enjoys the wide range of people that she encounters on the job.
“There’s such a spectrum of people who you work with, and getting to know people’s personalities, and how they react to having a camera around inspires me as a photographer,” she said.
Virgin Airlines was recently bought out by Alaska Airlines, so her series also preserves the culture of Virgin’s planes and people for posterity.
Her ultimate goal, though, is for her photos to help people see themselves in a new way.
“Learning how to take a photo of someone in a way that builds their confidence in themselves … that’s the biggest motivation for me,” she said.
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