I spent some time a while ago with a man who was one hundred percent certain, with the surefire certainty as night follows day, that the world was only four thousand years old and that man was on earth before the dinosaurs, and fought them off. When I asked him how he arrived at that idea, he simply replied, “I just know. The Bible says so.” Then there are expectant mothers who smoke in their last trimester, and others who think every Muslim is a terrorist. Everyone has opinions and beliefs of their own and what do they all have in common? They all can be chosen for jury duty, and determine the outcome of what could be a massive fraud case, or more insidiously, whether a person should be convicted of a crime and put to death.
This is what comes to mind when viewing the photos you see here. “No Seconds” is a thoughtful, and provocative series by well acclaimed photographer Henry Hargreaves, who recreates last meals of various people on death row, just before execution. This is not your average stab at food photography. Many of the meals featured are recreations of meals requested by infamous serial killers like Ted Bundy, and Timothy McVeigh. The focus is less of beautifying the subject, as it is laying it bare. It’s shot from a perspective of the diner, and gives a sensory view into the souls of men who knew the time and place they would die, that day.
In an interview with Vice, Henry says it was his coming upon the campaign to abolish the last meal in Texas that prompted him to look into it, and that has always had an interest in the food choices of others. He mentions that he could identify with the condemned, even briefly, through their choices; That the meals offered a look into the psyche of these men.
The thing that kind of struck me with these last meals was how many of them were these big, deep fried meals, which we like to call comfort food. Here were these people in their last moments and all they really want was a little bit of comfort.
Hargreaves has a formed statement and view on the capital punishment. The New Zealand native says that it’s strange that it this thing that is seen by much of the world as a barbaric act exists in a country that dedicates so much time and effort promoting their democracy and morals to the world.
Whatever his own stance, it humanizes the experience for a broad population, and displays it together with some info for you to feel, however it is that you feel. Most of the meals were prepared by a chef friend of his though some simpler ones he arranged himself. When asked if he ate the meals, he said he doesn’t like food to waste and tried a little, but couldn’t. He felt it too macabre and likened to eating the lunch of someone who has just died.
I was very moved by this series. I have my own feelings towards the death penalty which are somewhat inline with Henry’s, and I’ve never really felt from this perspective before. I spent some time in Dartmoor Prison in south of England. Dartmoor is storied and infamous for being residence for some of Britain’s worst criminals. Written about by many and the likes of Dickens, it’s seen it’s fair share of executions. I spent time chatting with some inmates, in close quarters, and somehow seeing these images make me feel more in their shoes than any conversation I had with them.
It’s an interesting thing, to see what was chosen, by whom, what crime they were sentenced for, and the little quirks of some, such as the single olive, and Lord Of The Rings DVD. What was going through their heads? Did they even taste the food? Did they choose things they knew and loved, or was it a statement, or something more sinister? It’s well known that satisfaction is the death of desire, and I imagine this may have played a part in their mind. That this last piece of satisfaction could be enough. It also made me wonder about the whole conflict of it all. Here is a system in place to effectively murder these people, and yet they grant a last meal. Why? It all really IS macabre. It’s brilliant.
CREDITS: All photographs shared by Henry Hargreaves are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.