Brain Pickings

The Fairest Fowl: Portraits of Championship Chickens


A universal standard for beauty, or what 12,000 birds have to do with NPR.

Humans have the beauty pageants. Dogs have the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. But who knew chickens, too, had their own line of competitive narcissism? In The Fairest Fowl: Portraits of Championship Chickens, photographer Tamara Staples documents the fascinating and glamorous world of poultry fanciers and their prized barnyard beauties, from the surprisingly elaborate judging process to the distinct personalities of individual birds that shine through Staples’ portraits. Printed on appropriately lavish paper and garnished with a delicious essay by NPR’s Ira Glass illuminating the intricacies of chicken portraiture, the book is equal parts rich anthropology of a curious subculture and remarkable feat of photographic brilliance.

Chickens this amazing don’t just happen. People help them along — breed them, nurture them, take them from the humble coop to the top of the poultry world. In what’s left of rural America, there is a poultry world. And it’s bigger than you think. At a recent national competition, 12,000 birds showed up.”

In the world of championship chickens, there’s a 100-point scale, and every feature counts. […] The American Standard of Perfection is regularly linked to the Bible. Almost every breeder or judge speaks of the book in such exalted terms. The Standard exhaustively discusses every possible nuance of a show chicken, and there is little to no ambiguity between its covers.”

All images copyright Tamara Staples

Equal parts kooky and artful, The Fairest Fowl captures a rare convergence of idiosyncrasy and idealism, making room for extraordinary grace and dignity in what could otherwise be dismissed as frivolous eccentricity.

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Collaborative Whimsy: Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir


Last month, we had the pleasure of seeing Eric Whitacre premiere the 2.0 version of his astounding virtual choir at TED 2011. The mesmerizing film is composed of 2,052 performances of “Sleep” from 1,752 singers in 58 countries, individually recorded and uploaded to YouTube between September 2010 and January 2011, and is now available for the world to gasp at. Caution: Hold jaw securely in place before watching.

The project is part YouTube Symphony Orchestra, part The Johnny Cash Project, part something entirely groundbreaking. Whitacre’s TED talk pulls the curtain on the making of the magic and is easily the most goosebump-inducing thing you’ll see all week:

“Sleep” is available on Whitacre’s spellbinding new album, Light & Gold.

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Poetry Animated: Tim Minchin’s “Storm”


A delightfully dark diatribe against that all-too-familiar dinner party know-it-all.

Australian comedian, actor and musician Tim Minchin is a master of the spoken word, known for his remarkably poetic yet irreverent musical comedy. Early last year, Minchin partnered with animator DC Tuner and producer Tracy King to turn Storm — one of his best-known poems, a hilarious diatribe against that all-too-familiar neo-hippie know-it-all archetype — into an animated short film. The trailer alone got us itching with anticipation:

This month, the full-length animated film is finally out, and it’s worth every second of the wait.

Storm, to her credit,
despite my derision,
keeps firing off cliches
with startling precision,
like a sniper using bollocks for ammunition.

For a closer look at how the magic happened, here are two quick timelapses of the fascinating animation process that brought the characters to life:

Storm comes from Minchin’s latest album, Ready for This?, as darkly delightful a gem as they come.

HT @matthiasrascher

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Game Frame: Bringing Game Mechanics to Work


Last weekend, we had the pleasure of Undercurrent’s Aaron Dignan speak at this year’s PSFK Conference where he offered, with wit and rigor, a delicious taste of his new book: Game Frame: Using Games as a Strategy for Success — a compelling case for using game mechanics to transform the way we think about and do work, making play a core driving force of the modern workplace.

This book is my attempt to compartmentalize the relevant information about games and play in everyday life into one quick but actionable read. The truth is, we are born knowing how to play, and how to invent games where none exist. I’m convinced that there is a role for games and play in reshaping the world around us. Most of the the game designers I know imagine a world full of highly engaged people actively becoming the best version of themselves. In bringing that vision to life, we lack only the road map to get there, and the willingness to begin the journey.” ~ Aaron Dignan

If you consider yourself a gamer, or you’ve ever seen Philip Toledano’s portraits of gamers, you know the kind of passion, drive and emotion that go into gaming. Yet, chances are, you’re also familiar with the kind of drone-like mesmerism that an unengaging job can inflict. The core premise of Game Frame is that the psychological insights and behavioral motivators of game mechanics can be translated to the business world with powerful, transformative results. From why games have such a strong magnetic pull on the human brain to how our iPhones, hybrid cars and other technolusts are priming us to be intuitive gamers, Dignan blends illuminating research with real-life anecdotes from around the world to deliver a compelling treatise on the elusive intersection of creativity, productivity and real joy at work.

Filmed in August 2010 at São Paulo’s MIS-Museum of Image and Sound, the documentary is a living hallmark of the incredibly diverse ecosystem of contemporary art, exploring some of the key pillars of creativity, from collaboration to inspiration to cerebral stimulation.

Part Enchantment, part Gamestorming, part Reality Is Broken, Game Frame offers a thoughtful yet digestible guide to making the modern workplace what it always should’ve been: Productive, engaging and, above all, fun.

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