Many of Henry Hargreaves's photos could be described as an odd form of portraiture: Instead of trying to capture a person's essence by pointing a camera at them, he composes artful shots of meals that they have eaten. In the past he's done this for famous musicians and death row inmates, and the resulting advertisement-quality shots of usually simple foods have a strange power thanks to the contexts surrounding them. A pile of fried chicken is an ordinary enough sight—until you imagine it's Busta Rhymes or John Wayne Gacy eating it.
Hargreaves's latest project focuses on people who are preparing for the end of the world. Commonly known as "preppers," they're famous for stocking up on guns, gold, and the other necessities of life in anticipation of a "shit hits the fan"–type event that cripples communication and transportation infrastructures and ushers in a new age of scarcity. Thanks to a chance encounter with a producer for National Geographic's Doomsday Preppers TV series, Hargreaves was introduced to many of the show's subjects and had the chance to talk about what they would cook after the end of the world. He then put together the meals in his New York studio, and the resulting photographs are paired with descriptions of the individual prepper's quirks and how he or she thinks the shit will hit the fan.
Scroll down for the rest of the images and an interview with the photographer, who will be giving a TED Talk in Manhattan this weekend.
VICE: What did you learn by talking to these people? Did they change your mind about anything?
Henry Hargreaves: When I started it I thought it was going to be a bit more of a sensational-type thing, like, Here are these radical people who are essentially a little bit crazy, and then as I spoke to them I was like, Actually, a lot of this makes sense. There are certainly a lot of bits and pieces that I totally agree with. Just with the food aspect, there's this sort of self-sufficiency that actually is kind of impressive when you distance yourself from all the other aspects of it.
Could you tell me about John Major, the guy who is represented by that plate of bugs?
He's basically worried about dirty bombs going off, so what he does is he has all his stores underground because dirt is one of the best insulators against radiation. He's all about foraging bugs and cooking them for the nutrients and also all about sprouting seeds. He's actually got a business where he supplies seeds to preppers and all sorts of people. On Doomsday Preppers, he actually cooks [the bugs] up with Parmesan and feeds them to his kids.
Was there something that you learned in doing this project that took you totally by surprise?
I realized I'm totally unprepared for any little occurrence, personally. [ Laughs] I mean now I got a shitload of MREs in my storage unit. So at least I've got some shitty canned food to get me through a little bit. But I guess I hadn't really thought too much about how everyone's personal experiences and beliefs taint what they prep. If you're an Orthodox Jew, you've got a certain set of rules that you gotta go by. If you're a diabetic, there's another set of rules that you've gotta go by. Some people were like, But there's gonna be radiation that gets leaked so then you've gotta bury things underground. Everyone had their own story based on what they thought was gonna happen.
You've done a few of these sorts of series; do you think what someone eats reveals something about them?
I guess that's what my TED Talk is going to be about: We are what we eat. What I just find really interesting is that we don't know anything about these people personally—but through their culinary choices, because we know what these things taste like, it kind of draws you in and you get that human element. Instead of looking at a picture and staring into someone's eyes and being mesmerized for a moment, I can connect with their belly.