CNN Photos

Charismatic chickens strut their stuff

Think you know chickens? Ernest Goh wants you to take another look.

The photographer was struck by the birds’ natural charisma when he recently took portraits of them in Malaysia.

“If you look really closely or you just take more time to observe the chickens, you can see human qualities surface: temperament, facial expressions,” Goh said.

Many of these chickens are actually pageant contestants, raised as pets and entered into competitions across different villages in Malaysia. Judges inspect each chicken and choose winners based on their physical assets but also their strut and their showmanship.

And these birds can definitely show off.

“When they went on the stage, they looked like runway models,” Goh recalls. “Once they know they’re on stage, they automatically perform in a way. They puff up their chests, strut a little bit more. They’re not trained to do this by their farmers. I think it might be something engrained in their DNA.”

Perhaps the most popular breed in Malaysia is the Serama. It’s the smallest breed of chicken in the world, but it packs plenty of personality. Goh says that personality comes out in the portraits.

“I’ve had people say, ‘Wow, they actually have expressions,’ ” he said. “People perceive them as something different. They see them as something more emotional, an animal with a soul.”

The Serama, with its oversized breast, large plumage and bright red comb at the top of its head, was named after Rama, the title of kings in Thailand. It has become especially popular in the past decade, Goh said, and Serama breeding clubs have even emerged in the United States and European countries.

But the breed originated in Malaysia, through the crossbreeding of Japanese and Malaysian bantams, and it has almost become a new icon for the country, Goh said.

After watching the brilliantly colored birds perform in beauty contests, Goh asked farmers if they would bring the birds in for a photo shoot.

When the farmers showed up, Goh put a black background behind the birds and just waited.

“It was like shooting a human model,” Goh said. “The only difference is they don’t take direction.”

Goh hopes the project will make people think twice about what they think of chickens and of animals in general.

“It’s just to give another chance at looking at these animals again,” he said. “They are more special than we might think. They’re not as ordinary as we might think.”

- Kyle Almond, CNN