Bird Vain: Fantastic Fowl
We’ve seen portraiture of captains of industry, portraits of movie stars and presidents.
Photographer Tamara Staples makes a pretty convincing case that it’s a darn good idea to give the chicken its Andy Warhol 15 minutes of fame in her irrepressibly charming collection of photographs: The Magnificent Chicken: Portraits of the Fairest Fowl.
Staples’ photographs of White Showgirl bantam cockerels, Red Naked Neck large fowl cocks and Silver Sebright bantam cockerels are chicken glamour shots, devoted to the full-feather splendor of these charming chicks. The chickens themselves couldn’t be more varied, as different as a Bangladeshi cab driver is from a Park Avenue debutante. The Dark Cornish large fowl cock, for instance, with its wide-legged fighter’s stance, inky feathers and no-nonsense gaze looks like the James Cagney of chickens: all business, and ready to rumble. The Bearded Buff Laced Polish large fowl hen, meanwhile, has the haughty demeanor and extravagant French vanilla plumage of a snazzy Las Vegas showgirl.
"This American Life" host Ira Glass provides a 1997 interview with Tamara Staples along with the portraits, to get you into the spirit of her photo shoots. We learn compelling details - like how Staples introduces herself by name to the birds and then proceeds to sweet talk her chicken subjects, to put them at ease. In addition to those stunning portraits The Magnificent Chicken is a crash course in the world of show chickens, with quotes from those who love them; a visual guide to feather coloring and patterns; and a run-down of what the Bible of chicken beauty, the 1874 American Standard of Perfection published by the American Poultry Association thinks amounts to real style and class in the chicken department. Matters as exacting as chicken earlobes, Staples notes, are discussed in The Standard.
Staples’ glorious birds are examples of fowl perfection as it is measured at the chicken version of dog shows -- the poultry events where chicken connoisseurs exhibit their fancy birds. Though the portraits are the eye candy, each image comes with a baseball card rundown of essential chicken stats: average weights, country of origin, feather pattern and other interesting details that may make you long to actually visit one of these chicken beauty pageants and get a real-life gander at these utterly bodacious birds.