If you appreciate good photography and dry, sly humor, and you’re not subscribed to Noah Kalina’s superlative newsletter, do yourself a favor. I subscribed awhile ago, probably about a year after it started, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every weekly email. It’s also how I came to hear about Tiny Flock (and Bedmounds before it).
Kalina raises some chickens on his little bit of farmland in upstate New York. It’s not a profitable operation… he lays out the costs near the end of the book (in a quote taken from the newsletter).
Short answer: at ~$20 per egg, it’s not about the eggs.
Now. I’ve long had a fantasy about keeping a few chickens. Not for the eggs, for sure, though partly, and mostly for the companionship and entertainment, and as benefits to the garden, maybe…
I’d build (or have custom built by our local handyman) a coop well up off the ground next to the vegetable garden, then run a fence around it. During the day, I’d let the chickens roam, eat bugs, poop on whatever, and I’d shut them up in the coop at night to protect from Raccoons and other chicken-eating wildlife. The expense doesn’t so much put me off, though I didn’t think about scratch and feed and monthly trips to Tractor Supply.* My biggest hurdle, and I’m not complaining: my darling wife, who has specific, long term plans for the backyard, has no chicken coop in her design and doesn’t seem ever so impressed with my idea. Oh well. Dreaming is free.
My brother in law and his family had three or four chickens (Amelia, Bedelia, and my darling wife doesn’t remember the other one(s) that Firas, her older son, now in his mid-to-late 20s, used to chase and chase and chase). One by one, Racoons pulled them out of the ground-level coop and, well, yum yum yum. By the time I started coming around, there was just the one left (Amelia, perhaps… or Bedelia… nobody remembers) and I think I had one or two or three of the $20 eggs before the Raccoons had another nice supper.
I’m not sure when I first caught on to Kalina and his chickens, but Marcel probably figured into it, and I kept seeing him (Marcel, the rooster) and his friends around here and there. So when Kalina announced the book (via the aforementioned newsletter) I jumped on it. (And good thing too, as its currently sold out.)
For pictures of chickens, Kalina’s photographs are incredible. Some recall the portraiture of Vermeer or Rembrandt. Others are largely character studies: the shy one, the chanteuse, the professor, the librarian, the noble hero, the divo. They’re a cast of characters, all right… apparently. They run about the snow-covered lawn with the deer; they hang around here and there, lounge in boxes in a shed or some place, preen and strut around wherever they like, and not just outside, not only on the working parts of the property.
About halfway through the book, a pair of dark pages demarcate the outside vs the inside, and, suddenly, there are chickens lounging about Kalina’s home and studio. Working professional photographer that he is, Kalina has all the expected tools: apple boxes and flats and half walls and backdrops, all whitewashed and appropriately beat up. And the chickens look great posing on and around them, or chilling on the studio couch, having a shower, riding around in the car, standing guard over (on) the MacBook Pro and choosing which seeds to plant this season.
Looking closely, it appears Kalina has something like the set up I imagine, though on a somewhat larger scale: a nice, big, high enclosure (at ground level, though), with something I can’t quite make out, perhaps some sort of structure inside, at one end of a large set of raised beds, which don’t appear to be planted at all, probably too late in the season, all enclosed in a high fence. Had I (room for) such a setup, I might imagine that chickens would be happy there most of the time, though Kalina’s chickens go all over, and it’s probably more appropriate to let them roam a bit more than I first imagined, though I never thought too much about it.
In moments away from the book over the last several days, I imagined there was a narrative running through it… There probably is a narrative running trough it. The second picture in the book shows Kalina’s shadow hovering over one of the chickens; the second-to-last picture shows someone’s hand (presumably Kalina’s) holding a baby chick still partially encased in an egg. The first picture shows a chicken looking particularly coy; the last picture shows Marcel doing his best Pavoratti impersonation. Partway through the “Outside” section, Marcel and one of the chickens walk together; in the next image, well, I maybe should’ve restricted the video to Adults only: it’s definitely NSFW. I had an idea that all this indicated a sort of psychological transference or something, a personification of Marcel as Noah and the adventures he had, or wished he had, or would have were he a rooster. But for that all to work, there would have to be some sort of chicken/rooster equivalence: the coy chicken at the start is, indeed, the chicken later seen walking with Marcel; but the chicken in Kalina’s shadow isn’t Marcel. Still, it works, kinda, as a narrative.
Marcel sits in Kalina’s chair, perches on his computer, bathes in his shower, rides around in his car. Sure, we’re always outside of him, watching him through Kalina’s camera, but there could be some sort of transference. And there’s certainly some personification going on here. But… I don’t know. If there’s a narrative, if it’s something more than “pictures of my chickens,” I’m too dense to see it.
Whether there is or there isn’t, Tiny Flock is a fun one. The chickens have such character and are so photogenic, and Kalina knows what he’s doing with the camera. It makes me look at Pebbles (my wife’s bunny) differently, makes me think maybe? but only for a moment: his character doesn’t translate to film. It makes me remember all the fun I had with Olive and Ivan all those years ago. Oh what fun I might have if I had a small flock of chickens…
Overall, Tiny Flock rates a solid 4 stars. Shame that it’s sold out everywhere.
Post Post Modern is a, what, imprint? dba name? that Richy Lamb set up, first to print a tote bag and later to publish Tiny Flock. The book is long sold out, and there’s nothing else currently on offer, but you can find some pictures from the project at Lamb’s website, and Kalina has a nice interview with Lamb in the Newsletter.
Or you can go to the source and find a double-handful of pictures from the series on Kalina’s website, and he talks about them hilariously in his excellent newsletter. (Again, do yourself a favor and subscribe.) I’ve carried on a pleasant email conversation with Kalina for most of this week, and he was kind enough to point out some errors in my Bedmounds review (thanks again!). He’s more active on Twitter and Instagram than I am (and so is the tiny flock, for that matter), and it seems that another book is in the works… Keep an eye out.
*Living in the suburbs as I do, the nearest Tractor Supply isn’t particularly “near.”