MARCH 31, 2014
In Malaysia, a type of chicken called the Serama is bred not for consumption but for its performance abilities and look. Chicken pageants are held in villages across the country; like at dog shows, owners bring their animals and display them for minutes at a time while judges rank them according to their feathers, strut, and disposition.
Ernest Goh, a thirty-five-year-old photographer from Singapore, first encountered these competitions when traveling across Malaysia in 2013. Goh, who is interested in how humans perceive animals, set up a photo studio on location, and began photographing the chickens with the intent of discovering, as he writes in a statement about the work, “whothey were, not what they were.” Goh met with chicken enthusiasts and breeders, who, as Goh describes, “often regard the chickens as warriors ready for battle.” He acknowledged that it is a “strange image you’d want to project onto a chicken,” but, after photographing the Seramas, he understood. “From the perspective of the photographer, the Serama seems more like a runway model!” he writes.
Above is a selection of Goh’s photographs of the Serama and other breeds from his most recent book, “Cocks.”
All photographs by Ernest Goh.
But a smile-inducing and surprisingly hypnotic photo series entitled “Cocks: The Chicken Book” is putting all our chicken-based assumptions to shame. Shot by Singapore-based photographer Ernest Goh, the series focuses on Ayam Serama chickens, an ornamental breed of bird cherished for their build, poise and showmanship. In Malaysia, these particularly classy chickens compete in beauty pageants where they are judged on looks and attitude, from the quality of their stance to the bravado of their wing and comb.
“I chanced upon the chicken beauty pageants while on another photo expedition to a farm in Malaysia,” Goh wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. “But when I arrived at the farm I found that the farmer had retired and sold the business and was not around. I managed to track him down and found him grooming his chickens at a chicken beauty contest. That was when I discovered this little known culture.
“As a photographer, I am always interested in photographing the human condition,” Goh writes in his statement. “But this human condition does not exist in a vacuum as we share the natural world with animals. My interest in photographing animals is a natural extension of my interest in the human condition, because we are all inextricably linked to each other. We cannot exist without the other.”
Even if, like us, you were previously living unaware of the existence of chicken beauty pageants and the bizarre wonders they hold, it’s not hard to identify a human spirit inside Goh’s winged subjects. Through the ruffled plumage and puffed chests, you can almost make out a perturbed and pompous little human underneath.
As enjoyable as it is to anthropomorphize Goh’s feathery friends, it’s just as enticing to admire the otherworldly creatures in all their alien glory, accepting their neon beaks and webbed claws on their own, utterly other, terms. See the prize-worthy creatures here and check outGoh’s Facebook to learn more. Bonus: you can take a peek at how the peculiar chicken pageant competitors live day-to-day in the video below.
By Camille Mann weather.com
Farm animals and fish were photographer Ernest Goh’s playthings growing up in his grandmother’s rural village in Singapore in the 1980s. Now, he has put to use that experience as his inspiration for two groups of photos, one of chickens, the other of fish, both portrait-style.
“Time [in the rural village] was spent either running after chickens on the front porch or by the stream catching fish and frogs for my collection,” he explained to weather.com. His two series “The Fish Book” and “Cocks” were his way of “recollecting those memories.”
Goh happened upon the world of chicken beauty pageants while he was on a trip in Malaysia for a shoot. When he arrived at the farm, the farmer had retired and sold the business. Once he finally tracked down the man, Goh found the him grooming his chickens for a beauty contest. “That was when I discovered this little known culture,” he said.
The photographer then began to seek out chicken contests, where he would invite the chicken owners to bring their fowl into his portrait studio — which brings a lot of puzzled looks from bystanders. But, getting the chickens to cooperate is Goh’s major concern.
“As with any animal photography one tries to anticipate what the animal will do next so as to be ready to photograph a good moment,” he said. “But with chickens it’s really tough to figure out what they will do next!”