Think all chickens are like the ones bock, bock bocking on Old MacDonald’s farm? Think again.
Last month, South Slope photographer Tamara Staples published her second book, The Magnificent Chicken, which spotlights some of the more unique breeds of poultry.
Tamara sat down with us over the weekend to offer a bit of insight into the world of chicken portraiture.
“My favorite uncle from Georgia breeds show chickens and also competes at the poultry shows,” Tamara told us, when asked how she became interested in chickens. “I lived in Atlanta for a brief time after college and he was kind enough to introduce me to his hobby.”
“This complicated web of shows all over the country is a close-knit community and little know sub-culture,” she added. “It is a family affair where all generations pitch in to genetically produce and show these gorgeous creatures.”
Large or small, poultry shows are big business, with anywhere from 1,000 to 15,000 birds competing in a single competition.
“The breeders show up, deposit their birds in a grid of cages,organized by breeds, colors, and sizes to await the judges’ verdict,” explained Tamara. “The judges pull each bird out of its cage and, based on a point system from The Standard, assess the feather pattern, color, comb form, overall body shape and in some cases health.”
Although not commonly seen in Brooklyn’s backyard coops, Tamara says that her subjects have been “in existence for hundreds, if not thousands of years.”
“They are bred to a standard that is clearly defined in The Standard of Perfection, a book dating back to the late 1800’s,” she said. “These birds would not be in existence today if not for the dedication of these passionate breeders. And they are also pets.”
As one might expect, poultry are not always the most cooperative of participants, so the next time you’re complaining about photographing your 3-year-old, talk to Tamara about working with chickens.
“Once we have a bird on set, you’ll never know what will happen,” Tamara told us. “These birds have traveled, in some cases, long distances from home and have been caged for a few days.”
“Once they get on the background they might run off, relieve themselves or just sit down,” she added. “I work with the owners to pose the birds based on “The Standard” pose. We also allow the birds to be themselves and that is always a surprise.”
Although she wouldn’t completely divulge her next project, Tamara did say that “it will be closer to home this time,” so we’re anxiously awaiting details. In the meantime, be sure to pick up a copy of The Magnificent Chicken, and show some love for a local South Slope photographer!
Images via Tamara Staples