There’s something irresistible about photographer Jean Pagliuso’s birds. They glare into the camera with a level of emotion that has nothing to do with Tweety Bird. From chickens to falcons, their pride, confusion, sweetness, and complacence jumps out in every one of Pagliuso’s “honest and forthright” portraits.

A native of Southern California, Jean Pagliuso graduated from the College of Fine Arts at UCLA. She has worked in fashion photography, including at Condé Nast, and designed a series of movie posters with the director Robert Altman. Her inaugural exhibition at Marlborough Gallery, “Fragile Remains,” was held in 2004 and chronicled the artist’s travels through the caves, tombs, and pueblos of Cambodia, India, New Mexico, Peru, and Turkey. Pagliuso has exhibited widely both in the United States and abroad, and currently lives in Santa Fe and New York City. “The Poultry and Raptor Suites” was on view at Marlborough Gallery in March 2011

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How did you decide to photograph birds?

My father raised chickens his entire life. When my mother died, I photographed her last rose from her garden. When my father died and I made my last visit to California, his last chickens had been given away but I decided to do the same little homage to him. What started as my attempt to find and photograph his type of Cochin Bantam became what clearly was a meaningful and viable project. I showed them to my gallerist and we agreed that my next show would be the Poultry Suite and I moved from landscape to poultry and raptors.

Where are these birds from?

I rent them just as one rents a prop. They are all local and brought into my studio by handlers.

Each bird has a different emotion: confused, stern, proud, complacent. As humans, are we projecting onto them, or do you think they really hold these feelings?

I lived with chickens my whole life. I think they are capable of curiosity and fear. And they are happy to go wherever there is food.

How many shots do you take of each bird on average?

I usually shoot approximately 84 frames per chicken.

Are the photos post-processed in any way?

My entire Hasselblad system was stolen from my home in Santa Fe when I was there to shoot falcons. I photographed anyway…with a Canon G9 point-and-shoot. In order to keep the consistency in the darkroom, as I do all my own printing, I had negatives made from the images. I did sharpen them a bit in Photoshop.

Who or what are your artistic inspirations?

I aspire to honest and forthright portraiture not unlike August Sander. I like the hands-on approach of handcoating the emulsion on rice paper because I think it lends both intimacy and literal distance to the finished print.

What are you working on now?

My New York exhibit is up as I write this. My next project seems to be shaping up to be Deserts and Waters: landscape that is informed by the desert around my home in Santa Fe, in California near my home town, in Egypt, and in Mali.


TMN editor Nozlee Samadzadeh is the internet’s only “Nozlee.” She grew up in Oklahoma, loves airports even when they’re miserable, and cooks dinner from scratch every day. More by Nozlee Samadzadeh