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.

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.

Slideshows

The Justice Department sent immigration judges a white nationalist blog post

The blog post was from an "anti-immigration hate website."

Attorney General William Barr via Wikimedia Commons

Department of Justice employees were stunned this week when the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) sent court employees a morning briefing that contained a link to a "news" item on VDare, a white nationalist website.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, VDare is an "anti-immigration hate website" that "regularly publishes articles by prominent white nationalists, race scientists and anti-Semites." The website was established in 1999 by its editor Peter Brimelow.

The morning briefing is distributed to all EOIR employees on a daily basis, including all 440 immigration judges across the U.S.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
via Smithfly.com

"Seventy percent of the Earth is covered with water, now you camp on it!" proudly declares Smithfly on the website for its new camping boat — the Shoal Tent.

Why have we waited so long for camping equipment that actually lets us sleep on the water? Because it's an awful idea, that's why.

Keep Reading Show less
Lifestyle

We've all felt lonely at some point in our lives. It's a human experience as universal as happiness, sadness or even hunger. But there's been a growing trend of studies and other evidence suggesting that Americans, and people in general, are feeling more lonely than ever.

It's easy to blame technology and the way our increasingly online lives have further isolated us from "real" human interactions. The Internet once held seemingly limitless promise for bringing us together but seems to be doing just the opposite.

Except that's apparently not true at all. A major study from Cigna on loneliness found that feelings of isolation and loneliness are on the rise amongst Americans but the numbers are nearly identical amongst those who use social media and those who don't. Perhaps more importantly, the study found five common traits amongst those who don't feel lonely.

Keep Reading Show less
Health

He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

He risked his life to leave a "historical record of our martyrdom."

via Yad Vashem and Archive of Modern Conflict, 2007

In September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland. By April 1940, the gates closed on the Lodz Ghetto, the second largest in the country after Warsaw.

Throughout the war, over 210,000 people would be imprisoned in Lodz.

Among those held captive was Henryk Ross. He was a Jewish sports photographer before the Nazi invasion and worked for the the ghetto's Department of Statistics during the war. As part of his official job, he took identification photos of the prisoners and propaganda shots of Lodz' textile and leather factories.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities
WITI Milwaukee

Joey Grundl, a pizza delivery driver for a Domino's Pizza in Waldo, Wisconsin, is being hailed as a hero for noticing a kidnapped woman's subtle cry for help.

The delivery man was sent to a woman's house to deliver a pie when her ex-boyfriend, Dean Hoffman, opened the door. Grundl looked over his shoulder and saw a middle-aged woman with a black eye standing behind Hoffman. She appeared to be mouthing the words: "Call the police."

"I gave him his pizza and then I noticed behind him was his girlfriend," Grundl told WITI Milwaukee. "She pointed to a black eye that was quite visible. She mouthed the words, 'Call the police.'"

Keep Reading Show less
Good News