Fine art photographer Alex ten Napel is known for his beautiful portraits—and he doesn't just limit these portraits to humans. With his Chickens, Hens and Roosters series, ten Napel proves that our feathered friends can also make excellent models. Shot against solid-colored backgrounds (typically black or white), the portraits show the elegance and beauty of these animals in rich detail.
In 2014, ten Napel realized that he could transfer his 25 years of portrait-taking experience into something new. He was sitting on the ground eating breakfast while on vacation in France when a chicken wandered over to him. That's when it all clicked. “Because we were, in a matter of speaking, on the same level, I saw her in a different perspective and noticed different aspects,” he tells My Modern Met. “She was sociable, funny, touching, and curious. She was so human! At the same period, I was looking for a new subject to photograph. I had made many portrait series and had the idea that I had to change course. So why not portray hens and roosters?”
Ten Napel threw himself into the project with gusto, learning as much as he could about his new subjects. This meant long visits to the Poultry Museum in Barneveld, where he could walk around their coops, and look at 17th-century paintings of poultry by great Dutch painters. After observing the hens and roosters closely, he knew that he had found something special.
“I saw walking works of art,” ten Napel recalls. “They are dressed in beautiful feathers with a great variety of colors and patterns. They walk gracefully as models on a catwalk, dance delicately like ballet dancers, and move acrobatically like gymnasts. Watching them was a feast for the eyes.”
When he felt ready, he created a mobile photo studio in the barn of a breeder he'd made contact with and went to work. What happened next was magic. The spontaneity of working with live animals was something new for the photographer, and the creative spark it ignited was palpable. He was thrilled that these animals, unlike humans, aren't trying to hide anything in front of the camera. They are simply being themselves at all times, for better or for worse.
Ten Napel's appreciation and respect for the chickens, hens, and roosters shine through in his work. Whether they are strutting across the scene or picking at their feathers, he captures it all. The level of trust that he develops with the birds is also evident in their poses. Although having patience isn't always easy, ten Napel takes his time to create a bond that only enhances his portraits.
He hopes that others will see the charm and personality of these animals and, in some way, gain a better appreciation for them. As he points out, not all of these chickens lead wonderful lives and so it's his desire to see them get the love and attention that they deserve.
With his Chickens, Hens and Roosters series, fine art photographer Alex ten Napel takes stunning portraits of chickens.
In 2014, he was inspired to use hens and roosters as models after a chance encounter with one while on vacation.
After closely observing these animals, he realized that they would make the perfect subjects of a portrait series.
“I saw walking works of art.”