Art + Design

Magnificent Chicken

Award-winning photographer Tamara Staples is our guest blogger today. Her images of prize poultry featured in the book The Magnificent Chicken are striking, surreal, sweet. The book also features a wonderful essay on the fine art of chicken portraiture by This American Life’s Ira Glass.

Lots of people look upon chickens as a quaint thing. You can’t really blame them considering how the chicken tchotchke rules. Yes, you’ll find them fully represented in the kitchen and occasionally you’ll find a porcelain chicken that’s accidentally wandered into the living room, sitting alongside the books on the shelves. And yes, chicken is food. Yes, it comes fried, and yes, it’s finger licking good, and yes, they taste like chicken. That’s easy. And it’s hysterical!

But that’s not what these photographs are about. These chickens are works of art. They’ve been breed to a perfection by serious, passionate and life long breeders. They are the outcome of their great, great grand chickens, carefully raised to be the competitive bird you see here.

Poultry shows exist all over this country. They are amazing organizations. There, you will find generations of families involved in the upkeep and competition of the birds, working together in a city folk’s dream of the country. When you look at these photographs, you may see a beautiful bird, you may see a proud chicken, and you may even be able to marvel at the colors or patterns that make each bird unique. What I wish you could see is the passionate 12-year-old boy, getting up before school, before daylight, no matter the weather, and making sure his birds made it through the cold night as he waters and feeds them. And now imagine his grandfather, who’s been raising and showing his birds since he was a child, carefully holding a newborn chick, imparting years of wisdom to his grandson. Imagine the family at the poultry show, as the ribbons are distributed and whether victory or defeat, all lifelong lessons.

I have genuine love for these birds. They have bewitched me and I could go on documenting them forever. The colors, the patterns, the distinct personalities of each one. Here I’ve elevated these birds to the elite, and I hope with them, all that stands behind them.

Latest posts by Tamara Staples (see all)

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