Slideshow: Last Suppers Last Suppers: James Reynolds' Photographs of Death Row Inmates Final Meals
The death penalty was reinstated 34 years ago this week. To mark the date, we look at a photo series of last meal requests from death row inmates.
James Reynolds is a London photographer who documented the final requests of former death row inmates after seeing a small list in Schott's Food and Drink Miscellany. He bought prison trays—replicas of the ones they actually use in maximum security prisons—off the internet and began staging these "Last Suppers."
This week marks the 34th anniversary of the reinstatement of the federal death penalty. I spoke with Reynolds over email.
GOOD: What were you trying to convey about these last requests?
JAMES REYNOLDS: I saw a small list of what a few death row prisoners had chosen for their last meals before their deaths and I wondered what they would look like as a visual image. After all, these meals would be one of the last things these prisoners see before they die. At first I just wanted to see what these meals looked like on the iconic prison tray. I wanted to get the viewer to think, or have an opinion. I'd like to think that the photographs make them think, what thought that is, I am not sure, as I myself had more thoughts the more I looked at them. What would my last meal be? What kind of people were these prisoners? Why did they choose that particular meal? What crime did they commit?
G: Are there any particular meals that spoke to you?
JR: I tried to research why each prisoner chose what they did, but only discovered why the single olive was chosen. This olive was un-pitted, and the thinking behind it was that the inmate thought that after being executed and buried, an olive tree—a symbol of peace—would grow from him. It was indeed a very profound thought or idea, but an olive tree has not yet been found on his grave.
G: So when you were done photographing these, did you eat the meals?
JR: There were some foods, for example, the KFC or the ice cream, that either looked very unappetizing, smelled bad, or were inedible. Most of the food I simply threw away, but things like the fruits I kept and eventually ate. I must say I didn't really think about what these foods meant to certain people or what they represented in the photographs. Fortunately, I had eaten most of the food before I saw the photographs.
G: Do you have any strong feeling about the death penalty?
JR: This is a very difficult question. There is an argument for executing a person that has committed an appalling crime, but there is also one for keeping them in prison to suffer behind bars in a very poor quality of life. This is, however, a very expensive thing to do. I am still undecided on if the death penalty is right or wrong.
G: What are you doing now?
JR: I work in an advertising agency as a creative. It allows me to convey messages to people, make them think, or form an opinion on something, which is what I love to do. I eventually hope to take many more photographs of the death row meals, maybe 100 or so, and make them into a coffee table book.
Grumpy Cat Celebrates Net Neutrality Win With a Quick Jaunt Over Comcast HQ The internet is free!
Aziz Ansari Thanks His Parents for Immigrating to the U.S. So He Could Spend Frivolously on Juice “I made a bad investment in juice.”
The Safest Places to Hide in a Zombie Apocalypse, According to Scientists Hint: It’s not New York City.
These Gorgeous Hungarian Banknotes Have a Black Light Secret American currency is boring.
Putting Your Insomnia Problems to Rest A guide to sleep for the sleepless.
This Campaign Wants a Woman On the $20 Bill and They Want You to Choose Who It Will Be Women On 20s wants a female face on paper currency in time for the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment
Octopus Turns Camera On Filmaker and Research Students Proving once again that they might be the smartest creatures in the sea.
Priest Who Takes Confession via Snapchat Pisses Off the Archbishop The Archbishop says confession must be performed face-to-face.
Science Explains Why Indian Food is Awesome South Asian foods hold a molecular secret
Homer Simpson (Almost) Discovered The Elusive ‘God Particle’ Fourteen Years Before Science Did Thanks to some sly mathematical in-joking, The Simpsons nearly predicted a major scientific breakthrough
Neo-Nazi Fashion a Big Hit With Trendy Europeans A new way to dress to oppress.
Internet Explorer Artist Laurie Simmons takes on web subculture The seminal feminist artist discusses doll community role play, Second Life, and love in the time of Tinder in preparation for her newest show at The Jewish Museum.