Wisdom or bad advice? Photographer Henry Hargreaves repurposes America's political disappointment into art
When the frustration and reality of Donald Trump being President of America is constantly on your mind, you have no choice but to create a fortune cookie series to remind the world of his prophecies. At least that's what photographer, digital artist, and gastronome Henry Hargreaves did in retaliation to the President's often absurd and surreal messaging to the American public.
When you turn on your television or listen to the radio, there's a good chance President of America Donald Trump will be mentioned at some point in the day. His Tweets make him newsworthy on the scale of global catastrophes. New Zealand-native and New York-based photographer Henry Hargreaves hasn't been able to escape his impulsive messages to the public since stepping into office. He kept on asking himself, 'Am I missing something profound' or acute within what Trump is saying, but the answer was always: no. He began to compare Trump to fortune cookies, instead of giving the pearl of wisdom, he felt both often just gave bad advice. With that connection made in his mind, be began developing his 'Fortune of a Nation' series.
First, he looked at the root of the modern-day fortune cookie and how it is actually an American invention. He traced it back until noticing it is a cultural appropriation passed off as a Chinese costume. The mysterious origin of the fortune cookie has puzzled the world for over a century. Some believe it was invented by Japanese immigrant Makoto Hagiwara in San Francisco around 1914, others say it was David Jung, Founder of the Hong Kong Noodle Company in 1918. Others say it was invented by 14th Century revolutionaries. Hargreaves actually found their origins to be traced back to Japanese communities held in internment camps by America after World War II.
Once being a beacon of hope in uncertain times, fortune cookies are mass-produced today to a consumer market. The deeper meaning of hope and wisdom has vanished, instead, they've become a playful commodity to end a takeout meal. Their playful nature, orange exterior, and questionable advice made them an easy subject for Hargreaves to connect Trump too.
Hargreaves came up with this concept and was working with a curator on a food exhibition about fortune cookies. But the exhibition kept on getting postponed so he decided to release his body of work. He told us that 'Fortune of a Nation' doesn't have a profound meaning behind it. Instead, he was just riffing on something that could connect the cookies to America. He hopes the first reaction people get when seeing the cookie is humor, followed by the reality that this is actually the President of the United States of America talking. He placed the orange goodies on a graduate red, white, and blue background to frame the 'Fortunes of a Nation' accordingly with the famous 'Star-Spangled Banner'.
Using photography as a political messaging tool is something Hargreaves has been drawn to in recent years. His route into humorous political activism was slightly unconventional. Starting off as a model, he picked up a camera four years after being behind the lens and became a self-taught photographer. "Trying to make sense of this crazy world through the fun of imagery" is what is driving his new work. Plus he thinks politics make him seem deeper.
Humor and dirty jokes are evident in the creative persona of Hargreaves. We asked him what his favorite fortune cookie message was, to which he replied, "The viagra one, it's way more information than anyone needs and probably one of the biggest untruths".
He believes Trump couldn't have been more suited for the 'Fortune of a Nation' series because he is ludicrous so often. We asked him if he could feature one dead leader, who would it be and what would the cookie say. He said Winston Churchill would have been good for the project, to which he instantly pictured one of the cookies reading, "If you're going through hell, keep going!" He then followed that up by saying it could be fun to create a 'who said it' Trump vs. Churchill series.
The creative realm of Hargreaves now extends beyond photography now, he's also a restaurant partner in New York hotspots Jack Wife Freda and St Mazie. He says there is actually a really nice crossover between both worlds and enjoys being able to offer more than just a check. When in New York, the still-life photographer spends his weekends at Brooklyn pizza joint Roberta's, usually sitting at the bar table ordering eggs.
In times of political disappointment and jaw-dropping absurdity, Hargreaves has unpicked much of the world's bafflement and transformed it into humorous art. When Trump gives the world meaningless rhetoric, repurpose that confusion into digestible orange surprises.
Food staging exists because we now live in a world where we eat with our eyes. but it isn't always a medium just to get us excited for lunch. Henry Hargreaves and many other renowned photographers are using this art to start debates, humor their audience and rethink our approach to food. Explore more in our Visual Feast book.