I came to know about the chickens through my uncle, a lifelong hobbyist. I was struck by the variety of shapes and colors of the birds, but I was moved by the individual personalities. My intent in photographing these birds was to create a portrait. I have great respect for their profound history, the utilitarian aspect of their physiology, and the care and passion that goes into the breeding of each variety.
At poultry shows all over the world, known as The Fancy, chickens of all shapes, colors and sizes await their judgment. There is an existing framework, a culture really, that aims to perfect these birds by breeding them based on a book entitled, The Standard of Perfection. These birds are something to behold, and few outside of The Fancy even know of their existence. Each breeder has spent years creating a work of art, where genetics is key. And each bird IS a work of art; from the amount of toes on each foot to the width of the wingspan, from the precise color to the exact weight. Judges carefully inspect every detail. But there is also something else: Personality. Chickens can be haughty, angry, affectionate, shy, charming, sedate, or even funny. In this project, not only do I introduce these regal birds, bred to a standard that most will never match, but I also attempting to capture the individuality of each bird. Just like people, chickens are unique. Take a look into the eyes of these birds and judge for yourselves.
My chicken portraits were the subject of two books: The Fairest Fowl, 2001, The Magnificent Chicken, 2013, both through Chronicle Books. This work has been featured on NPR’s This American Life, CNN, The New York Times and and in other media worldwide.
Part II of my chicken adventures. National Geographic ran a story about these beauties.