Henry Hargreaves at Storytelling and Food – Henry Hargreaves

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Change Food

Photographer Henry Hargreaves uses food in surprising ways in his work, with the goal of “trying to get people to re-connect with food in a fun way.”

Some of the work he showed included:

  • Jello Presidents – portraits of each U.S. president created out of gelatin, color coded based on the elements of the US flag – red, white, blue and stars. The colors reflect their political party, how many terms they served and if they died in office.
  • Food Maps – maps of countries and continents created using foods native to or associated with each place.
  • Burning Calories – iconic fast food items (re-created as cakes), literally set on fire.

Essentially I’m a food artist and photographer and I don’t offer as literal an answer as to what we should be doing, but I want people to re-engage with food and see it in a different way and use it to tell a story and from there hopefully make more educated consumers of us all. So where my presentation’s going to start with today is with going back to our childhood and at the dinner table and how the dinner table’s always such a formal place for kids, it was where you sat down and you had your back up straight. You kept your elbows off the table. You used your knife and fork and you certainly didn’t play with your food. As I got older and this whole concept of, this is what I believe for the first 30 years of my life. That playing with food was not a done thing.

And recently I was hearing a story about a mother whose son was really sick and having a lot of trouble eating, just wasn’t interested in putting any food in his mouth. So what she did was she took food coloring and would color all the food and suddenly he got excited about the food and wanted to eat it again and I thought this would be a really interesting approach to take with my photography and try and represent visually and to play as kids, colors are such an exciting thing to have in food. But as we get older they become things that repel us and we think of it as being totally artificial. What’s interesting about this series here is how it’s about peoples’ perception on food, and how coloring is actually odorless and tasteless. With all these series, with all these pictures here, everything would smell exactly as it is and taste exactly as it is. But when we see it we think it’s so artificial. After I put this series out online it was really interesting the reaction I got and how I felt it was such a powerful position to take, just to be able to show people food in different ways and they really expected to see it.

So I went back to my university roots, it was art history and decided to take some iconic series of famous artists. So I started with Mark Rothko and he had had a series called the Seagram Mural series. This piece was actually hanging in the Tate Modern in London and someone came in and graffiti’d it. I read about the history of this piece after this happened and he had actually been commissioned to do these for the Four Seasons restaurant up here in midtown Manhattan and Rothko thought this was a great way to be able to get the money from this commission. He was going to create a series that was so dark and muted in its pallet. That no one would actually want to eat in the presence of these pieces. He was going to get the money, they were going to deny the works, he would get to keep the money and get the works back. But as the star rose he found that they were actually going to take the pieces and he didn’t want any part of it. So he actually backed out of the deal. Took the pieces, sent them around the world and he gave the money back to the Four Seasons. But I like the way this all played in with the food. So I decided I’d try and recreate this out of food. So here we have the Mike Rice-Ko series and so I did the Seagram ones which were all very dark and then it was like, let’s come to the more bright early works of his and just something fun, memorable. Just trying to use the food to tell a different story than how we usually would see things made out of rice.

And then while I was on this tangent with Rothko. Damien Hirst had this whole series at the Gagosians all around the world where he had all the dot paintings. As I was reading the artist’s statement about the dot paintings, Damien Hirst said he had actually only ever participated in the creation of five of all these thousands of paintings. He actually got all his studio and his assistants to make them all. So I felt this could be a really fun time to take food and use it as a bit of a parody here. So going down to M&M world, just got exactly the same M&Ms from all the pantones from all his work and decided, let’s take the readymade to the next level and it’s already done for me. It was fun how the M became this iconic brand as the Damien Hirst has become in the art world as well. So to move away from this, I then went into other iconic imagery with the edible subway maps. Here we have Washington DC, again using our friend, M&Ms. We’ve got London here out of pasta.

And then coming from here I was like, let’s also get into other parts of the food world. So I was interested in how this the nation’s obsession with burning calories and exercise and burning off everything, with these things we put in our body and how ineffective exercise actually is when you break it down to how hard you work to how much comes off. So playing on this whole pun of burning calories, I decided I’d do a whole series of fast food cakes. So did these here with a flourist, Amirah Kassem and she made all these cakes of fast food items and we literally burnt the calories by taking the flame to them. What was interesting as we did this, I think that cakes have obviously had some pretty bad PR over the years. This was fast food, how we always think of cakes as being the biggest evil in the food system where the caloric content of these was actually really similar to what their fast food dopplegangers were.

So coming from here I wanted to re-engage with education and food and the the childhood aspect of it all, and so in 2012 when the US elections were coming around I was getting caught up in the whole hype that was surrounding it. But as a New Zealander I’m not allowed to get involved. I started looking into the history of all the presidents and decided I want to do my homage to the US presidents and so I did this whole series of the Jell-O presidents. Using Jell-O, this is growing up, a very American brand to me, I decided I would do all the presidents and then color code them in the elements of the US flag, red, white, blue and stars. Based on which parties they were with, how many terms they did. If they died in office, how they died and represent them in all this very noble pose of the profile. At the same time learned about the presidents myself but also show people there’s more than just the greatest hits of the presidents. When I put them out online, I also gave everyone a fun fact, just to engage you and make you learn about all these other presidents who you might not necessarily have been alive in your lifetime, but want to know about. So again just trying to bring some fun back into history, which can often be seen as being boring and dry when you’re a kid.

Something else that I didn’t really have much time for when I was growing up was geography. Working with Kaitlin Levine who I do a lot of my series with, we decided to do these maps of all the countries and continents from around the world and bring in food from these countries, or food that you associate a lot with these countries. So you know, whoever thinks about shrimp and not Australia with throwing another one on the barbie. Maybe that’s just the Kiwis but for us, it’s the way we always think about Australia. So to break them down into all the different political regions, so all the states or all the countries within a continent. But more than just showing this is where things necessarily came from, this series also brought in how food travels and it moves around. The tomato which originally came from South America has now traveled to Italy and now when we think about Italian food, we think about the red sauce, Italian dishes and everything like this. This was what I wanted to bring there and just help educate people a little bit with something fun and how corn has become inserted itself into nearly everything refined in America now. Here’s the the 50 states of all the different corn products.

Basically where everything ties up, I can’t say that I’m trying to change the system as much as I’m trying to get people to reconnect with food in a fun way. Through this I want people to think more about what they’re putting in their bodies and therefore come back to thinking about the food system and just trying to suddenly make a more educated consumer of people through looking at my work. Thank you.

Video Length: 00:09:11

  • About Henry Hargreaves

    Photographer, Artist Henry Hargreaves at Storytelling and Food – Henry Hargreaves

    Henry Hargreaves is a New York City based photographer and artist whose work has regularly been covered by the media ...read more.


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