Serama roosters are no ordinary cocks. You won’t find them on a farm, or even in a back-alley cock-fighting ring. They’re not for eating—besides, at less than six inches tall, they don’t pack much meat. But what they lack in size and ferociousness, they more than make up for in attitude.
In Chickens, the American reprint of Malaysian photographer Ernest Goh‘s book Cocks, that attitude is on display. Goh has made a set of crisply lit portraits of the diminutive birds strutting in front of a stark black backdrop, and the birds’ colorful feathers seem to shine. Shot at low angles with no other objects to provide perspective on their dimensions, the birds seem huge. With their vertical posture, elongated plumage and breasts pushed forward, they appear almost like warriors—a band of fowl, feathered centurions.
Serama chickens are revered in Malaysia, where they were first bred from Japanese and Malaysian bantam chickens. Sometimes claimed to be the world’s smallest chickens, they can weigh as little as half a pound when full-grown. Many are kept as pets or raised to compete what are essentially beauty contests. In an essay in the book, Mohamed Tahar Jumaat, who acted as Goh’s assistant and fixer while traveling in Malaysia, claims one Serama cock was sold for a record 35,000 Malaysian ringgits (approximately $10,000).
Goh’s photos convey the power, beauty and majesty of the breed, which survived near-extinction in 2004, when more than 50,000 birds were culled in the name of public safety in the wake of the Asian bird flu epidemic. As in his first book, The Fish Book, featuring marine-life portraits that seemed to capture eerily human expressions, Goh seeks to expose the odd shades of humanity in the birds, by giving them respect and admiration typically reserved for human subjects. His subjects are not anonymous; they’re characters. “Our perception of animals could be changed simply by getting to know them as individuals,” he says. –Matthew Ismael Ruiz