Henry Hargreaves will not drink soft drinks. “To me, sodas are like the tobacco of our generation,” says the Christchurch-raised New York photographer. Soft drink giants are on his list of “big evil companies”, so when Diet Coke wanted him to shoot a campaign for them he simply avoided them. “When I got asked to do this thing for, you know, the evil empire, I didn’t want to shoot that.” In fact, his 2015 series (de)hydrate illustrated just how much sugar was in various soft drinks. “I put them in a frying pan and boiled them down until they caramelized and I made lollipops out of them,” he says, “and you got an enormous lollipop out of just one can of coke.”
Henry’s work often has a political message or larger story behind it. For A Year of Killing he recreated the last meals requested by inmates on death row. His recent Fortune Cookie series features brightly lit fortune cookies with sayings from President Trump inside. By comparing the meals of the haves and the have-nots, Power Hungry shows how authoritarian regimes throughout history have used food as a weapon. The fallout of the Food System shows mushroom clouds – made out of mushrooms.
Have you noticed a pattern? Henry is variously referred to as a food photographer, food stylist, food artist and art director. “I think I’m emotionally attached to food that I associate with a ritual or a place,” he says. “To me that’s where a lot of my work is – how food says things about us.” He admits he’s ritualistic about breaking his fast. “I get my drip coffee usually with just a little bit of milk. I like drip coffee because I like session coffee. I like to be able to sit on it. I usually go past one of three cafes on my journey to the studio every morning and get that. I also usually get it with a pastry. Which is one of my other vices.” If it’s not coffee and a pastry, it will be granola at home. “That’s a real childhood ritual,” he says, “every day having my Allison Holst granola. And mum went through a period when we used to make yoghurt. And I’d have my little natural sweetener, like honey, and fresh fruit.”
Henry, who has experience in both the modelling and hospitality industry, is enthusiastic about collaborating as he believes the resulting work turns out better. He often works with Caitlin Levin who he describes as someone who “keeps me on point, keeps me pushing to do things better, rather than just finishing them.” Their series Gingerbread Art Galleries, architectural replicas of the world’s most famous museums and art galleries using gingerbread and candy, is something Henry is particularly proud of. “They exceeded my expectation of what I thought they were going to be,” says Henry. “They look more grand and beautiful and like architectural photographic shots than we had hoped. I really wasn’t sure that we’d be able to execute these as well as we did.”
Henry’s biggest challenge is the hustle to make a living as a creative and forging a career that doesn’t have a traditional path. “There’s no conclusion,” he says. “That challenge is constantly there and I guess that’s what constantly keeps me invigorated and hungry and wanting to push on.” Another challenge is not wasting food. After a shoot he’ll give away as much as possible or find other ways to use it. “Although I never feel that it’s wasted if it lives on in a photo forever, I hate the idea of wasting things. Then I become as much a part of the problem as a help.”
Henry was back in New Zealand in 2018 for an exhibition called Birthdays That Will Never Come… part of the 10th anniversary of Visa Wellington On A Plate. Based on the Australian Women’s Weekly birthday cake cookbook, the series celebrates the “uncelebratable” birthdays of baby names submitted but declined for registration in New Zealand.