Portrait photographers such as Yousuf Karsh and Annie Leibovitz are famed for bringing out that extra spark out of an otherwise ordinary subject. Many aspiring portraitists today follow their example in trying to coax out a little bit more out of their subjects. Fortunately for Tamara Staples, her subjects already look glamorous The only thing need in her portrait series was the patience and passion to get all participants in one book. These pretty birds are the subjects of the chicken fancy in her book, The Magnificent Chicken.
Tamara Staples is a professional photographer known for her regal portraits of chicken. Her fascination for the domesticated farm bird began when she was a child visiting her uncle's poultry farm. Many of these visits would involve long conversations about chicken, and on one occasion, her uncle invited her to a poultry show. After her first experience with cacophony of sights, sounds and smells, Staples was hooked on the chicken.
Staples' subjects were the pets and owners of the chicken fancy, a hobby involving the breeding and raising of special breeds of poultry. Just like dog shows and similar events, there are also poultry shows which gather these hobbyists and their birds to show off their lovely plumage.
The governing body which organizes these events is the American Poultry Association established in 1873, and their basis for judging the best of the best is the American Standard of Perfection, a reference book which has been regularly updated since 1874. Every bird is judged on a 100 point scale, with no ambiguity left about any feature the chicken might have.
The exacting demands of the standards might make it seem that the breeders are overly competitive, but Staples only has nice things to say about the poultry owners. Each poultry show is indeed a competition, but fancy hobbyists spend more of their time discussing common points of interest rather than keeping secrets about their breeding strategies.
Staples' first portrait attempts were simple pictures she took during her free time. Slowly, she would learn from each shoot and bring better gear or adjust her lighting settings to suit the subjects. As she began to get a feel for the chickens, Staples began preparing more elaborate backdrops. On one occasion, her assistant brought different colored fabrics, which, when placed behind the chickens, created a whole different look to the project. She then experimented with different environments to suit the look of each bird.
Initially, Staples' sought out the best examples of each breed as put forth in the Standard of Perfection, but as the project went on, the photographer began choosing specimens based on their demeanor and pose. While this did not go well with fancy experts who could see defects in the subjects, the photographer hopes that the chickens' personalities will more than make up for any physical shortcoming they may have.
There are more pretty birds on Tamara Staples website. There's also the Pretty Chicken website for more publications on the chicken fancy. Tamara's pictures are available in The Magnificent Chicken: Portraits of the Fairest Fowl, and The Fairest Fowl: Portraits of Championship Chickens. For those looking to get into the fancy, there's The American Standard Of Perfection: A Complete Description Of All Recognized Varieties Of Fowls (1906).