Beauty in the Grotesque: Close-up Photographs of the Helmeted Guineafowl and Contemplating Aesthetics

In Afrikaans we have a saying: "mooi van lelikgeid". This basically translates to "beautiful from being ugly". What it basically means is that when something is really ugly it somehow turns beautiful. Or, if something that is ugly should be beautiful, it becomes beautiful because of its ugliness. The best example is a newborn baby. Many family member have said the following to a newborn baby: "Sy is skoon mooi van lelikgeid!" Directly translated, it will read something like, "she is quite beautiful of ugliness". This single saying brings us so close to the problems of aesthetics in philosophy: what is beauty, and moreover, what is it when something is beautiful? Inherent to the Afrikaans saying is already a problem: there is a definite distinction between what is beautiful and what is ugly. In other words, to function, the saying relies upon already accepted aesthetic principles of what is beautiful.

Why this talk about beauty and ugly? Well, the helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris) in South Africa is not one of the most beautiful birds when you compare them to others. Whilst photographing this "beautiful" bird, I asked myself this question the whole time: what is beauty really? And how can we say that something like this bird is beautiful because of its ugliness? (People often say it to animals like this bird as well.) In any case, I share with you some close-up photographs of this bird interlaced with musings or thoughts on the topic of beauty and aesthetics.






Black and white.

Why do some images look better in black and white than color? Why does color affect the feel or aesthetics of an image? How is it that color or the lack of color can swing your emotions like that? Why is it that black and white photographs make you feel emotional, a longing?






Looking away.

The act of looking is always already a looking away as well. By looking at something you actively choose to not look at all the rest that is not in your vision. Beauty functions similarly. We look or seek beauty, and actively try to avoid the grotesque.







Othering the other.

Beauty is a funny thing. As with the Afrikaans saying, we find beauty in the ugly. But as mentioned, this already presupposes the beautiful. What is beautiful? What is beautiful in order for something to be ugly? For something to be beautiful, we need to already know what it is to be ugly. Asking someone to define the ugly with no reference to beauty will leave them wordless. The ugly is simply that what is not beautiful. How funny that we view life like this. The negative of this is that we begin to "other" the unfamiliar, the ugly, that what does not please. Othering the other, we shove them to the side and leave them to be. But their identity in our eyes becomes a lack, something that is not. Their identity becomes a negative, a void, something they will never possess.





A new beginning.

The end is always the start of something new. Beauty is always the end of what is ugly. Ugly is always the start of what is beautiful. Drawing borders around concepts like beauty and art will always create a small fissure or crack in which fertile soil awaits the brave to plant seeds. In this fertile soil, new notions of beauty and art always erupt. With those who are not beautiful, we can always ask why? In asking why, we begin to uncover the hidden assumptions and in peeling away these assumptions, we create the material to fertilize the soil for new conceptions to grow.

This post turned out to be rather philosophical. I did not plan for it to happen. I just started to write. I have been reading a lot of books on aesthetics these days. My mind is in overdrive. In any case, if you are still reading, thank you! All of the images were taken with a Nikon D300 and Tamron zoom lens. The musings are due to a beer I had whilst editing the photographs. So they are mine, but am I the same person in my sober thoughts as in my intoxicated thoughts? Let us not start this debate! I hope you enjoyed the photographs of this lovely and quite beautiful (albeit from ugliness) bird friend.


Manually curated by EwkaW from the @qurator Team. Keep up the good work!


Very adorable photography and love the colors and angle also.
Its colors are so striking! ❤️
Awesome work dear friend @fermentedphil


It is such a lovely bird! Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.