Since the US reinstated the death penalty back in 1976 over 1,442 inmates have been executed at an average of 47 every year.
Of that total, it’s estimated that roughly one in every nine prisoners sentenced to death has been exonerated after newfound evidence found them innocent of the crime.
Too often it’s come too late or at a personal cost with death row prisoners spending an average of 18.5 years awaiting their execution.
In almost all instances, those inmates executed could not afford their own attorney at trial.
To an outsider, it smacks of an unfair and dangerously unequal system, where the poorest and most deprived in American society suffer. Yet the death penalty remains legal in some 31 states.
This controversial topic is a subject close to the heart of photographer Henry Hargreaves.
An avid artist who grew up in New Zealand, Hargreaves’ formative years were spent working in the food industry, something which would go on to inform much of his work.
His collection, A Year Of Killing, is a simple yet striking concept, with Hargreaves recreating the final meals of each of the death row inmates executed in the US in 2016.
“I always worked in the food industry before being able to be a full time photographer,” he explains on his website.
“I was fascinated about peoples requests and what they ordered said about their character and personality. I try to bring this idea into my work by showing the connections visually.”
The result is a collection of striking dishes that not only catch the eye, but offer up an insight into the preferences, personalities and sociological differences of the people behind the crimes.
To look closely at these images is to look at the humanity often ignored in the pursuit of what is, essentially, legalised vengeance, the fully-realised concept of an eye for an eye, played out through the American legal system.
“State sponsored executions have become increasingly problematic due to lack of access to effective drugs, clear racial and social basis and the human error of assigning blame,” Hargreaves explained to loaded.
“Yet the killings still go on at a rapid rate. I just hope this collection helps better inform people about this practice.”
It’s not the first time Hargreaves has examined the idea of capital punishment through the medium of food-led photography.
Another collection, entitled No Seconds, focused on the final meals of notorious death row inmates and serial killers like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy.
Equally striking, the collection sparked further debate around the death penalty and meals chosen by the men and women portrayed as monsters in the media but who are, in reality, as mortal as you and I.
Both collections amount to a series of photos designed to catch the eye, inspire discussion and, pardon the pun, offer food for thought. In a world where sharing pictures of your latest eye-catching meal is more commonplace than online discussion about the society we live in, that can’t be a bad thing.
You can check out the full collection and Henry Hargreaves’ other work here.
Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.