You’ll see food in many of Henry Hargreaves‘s photographs, but the man is no ordinary food photographer. He uses it to create artistic images which are at turns whimsical, poignant, and thought-provoking. Food is his entry point for discussing and thinking about complex issues or ideas — a way to connect with people he feels a literal or metaphorical distance from.
Whether Hargreaves is comparing the feast of a dictator to the meals of his starving people, exploring the actual contents of fast food items, or chronicling the last meal requests of death row inmates, his work feels accessible and personal; almost voyeuristic. Using food as touchstone, it feels much simpler to look at complicated issues that we might normally distance ourselves from.
Recently, Hargreaves returned to the subject of the death penalty for a series called, “A Year Of Killing.” He originally broached the subject a few years ago with his series “No Seconds” — a project that found him taking photos of the last meals of some of history’s most notorious killers. As he looked at the subject a second time, he felt that the first series missed showing people the sheer number of human beings that we execute every single year.
“On average there are 46 people who have been killed every year,” Hargreaves said. “I think that there’s a real feeling that the executions are saved for the worst, most heinous crimes imaginable and they happen once in a blue moon. So I wanted to illustrate that it’s actually a really common, much more common occurrence than you think.”
In “No Seconds” Hargreaves used recognizable names — people like John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, and Timothy McVeigh. These killers have become almost story book villains, distant and unredeemable in our collective minds. They may as well be Mike Myers, Patrick Bateman, or Hannibal Lecter; they inspire the same revulsion and terror.
“I felt like the first one was names that you recognize from media or pop culture,” Hargreaves said. “This time, I really just focus on the anonymous faces of the people who are executed.”
“A Year of Killing” is a powerful project — sure to stir people emotionally, no matter what they think about the death penalty.
I recently spoke to Hargreaves about his work and the artist offered insight into his motivations, his creative process, and the unique ways he plays with food.
What made you feel passionate about shedding light on death row prisoners?
One of the big things is being a foreigner and coming to America. I grew up in New Zealand, and culturally we’re pretty similar and have more or less aligned values. But, pretty much any western country in the world doesn’t have the death penalty. To me, it’s just such a peculiar, odd, dark relationship that the country has with executing its own people.