Jean Pagliuso takes pictures of chickens. It’s a risky subject—to hear about it, you’d worry you were dealing with the same kitschy, quasi-ironic veneration of farm and fowl that animates many an Etsy shop—but there’s nothing decorative or trite about these portraits. On the contrary, they’re warm and almost perturbingly sincere. In part you can thank the artist’s pedigree for that; Pagliuso has enjoyed a long career in fashion photography, having shot everyone from Richard Gere to Sophia Loren for Vogue and Rolling Stone, and she worked with Robert Altman for a while, too. Having shown these pictures in galleries the past few years, she’s now assembled a book, Poultry Suite, out this month.
Pagliuso was inspired in all this by memories of her late father’s avocation: he raised show chickens, and after he died, she wanted to photograph one in memoriam. One, it turned out, did not suffice. She uses Thai Mulberry paper and a silver gelatin emulsion technique to confer a jarring dignity on her subjects, which seem paradoxically more alive than they would in full color. They’re chickens and owls, sure. But they’re—elegant? That’s it. They’re elegant. And in the time of “Put a Bird on It!”, that’s a remarkable thing.