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Henry Hargreaves on finding creativity in NYC

Posted September 03, 2015

Find Henry’s recommendations for bars, cafes and restaurants on our app Supper.

You might not recognize his name, but you’ll almost certainly recognize his work. Henry Hargreaves is the artist and photographer behind ‘No Seconds’; a series of chilling photographs recreating the last meals of notorious serial killers. The images went viral, racking up 2.5 million views on Buzzfeed alone and putting Henry on the world map.

But long before Henry was a force behind the camera, he was in front of it; modeling for some of the biggest names in fashion. In fact, it was being booked for New York Fashion Week that first brought him to the city in 2001, all the way from Christchurch, New Zealand.

While his modeling days might be over, Henry’s still hanging out in creative circles, this time in the art world. He’s built his career by creating the type of photography he wants to see. “I try to do things i’d like to see myself. I make myself the audience and think ‘that’d be really cool to explore that idea’ and I put it out there.”

On the back of his new series ‘(de)Hydrate’, which shows just how much sugar is in your favorite soda by turning them into lollipops, Henry spoke to Supper about his experience living in New York, and how ‘living like a sardine’ fuels his creativity.

You moved to New York in 2001. What was that experience like?

It had always been on my mind to spend as much time away from Christchurch as I possibly could. When I got to New York, it was like “Shit. This is the place I was looking for.” The positivity here is so much higher and I just found it so exciting. So that was that. Eleven years later it’s still a party every day.

Which neighborhood did you move to when you arrived? How does it compare then and now?

East Village. The biggest comparison was in my own head. To me, coming to New York, Brooklyn was where Mike Tyson grew up. When I arrived I was on my toes about everything. I expected it to be a very dangerous city and I was very intimidated. At night I was too scared to go past Avenue B. 

You could get really cheap places back then, which is much more difficult now. I lived in the East Village in 2002, but that was when I was modeling and moving around taking a new place every three months. But when I moved permanently I moved to a place off the Grand St stop. I could have a live/work space for $600 and still be 15 minutes from Union Square. You just don’t get that these days. You had the space to to live out your dream and it wasn’t going to bankrupt you. I was working three nights a week and I was able to sustain everything. And the tradeoff was it was an area that wasn’t gentrified and a little rough around the edges, so not many bars and cafes. So yeah, that was the biggest change.

Was there a Kiwi community when you arrived? Were you apart of it?

I didn’t really have any friends out here. I didn’t aggressively go looking for Kiwis. I just forged my own friendships with people. When I first moved here there was a community called Kia, but I had no interest in being part of it. I was trying to prove myself that i could do it on my own. I’ve changed my attitude and I’ve embraced it. There are these Flat White Meetings on the last Friday of the month at a Kiwi cafe called Happy Bones. Now I always kinda leave my door open to people who want to come ask me questions. I hate to use the word mentor, but i’d like to give people a hand and share the experiences that worked well for me and help Kiwis make it work here.

Where do you live now?

My studio is in the same building where I moved just off the Grand St stop many years ago. And I live off the Morgan stop in Bushwick. There’s still the mixture of excitement but being safe and a little unpredictable. There’s always new little things popping up. I also enjoy being surrounded by young people who aren’t stuck in their ways. I like the energy of the youth.

With the nature of your work, and the attention you’ve received online, it almost seems as if you could have been successful wherever you lived. Do you think that could be the case?

To be fair, I think new York is part of it. not just the networking, i spent some time living in Tuscany when my girlfriend was working there a few years ago. and I was pretty devoid of inspiration. I was expecting I’d take my camera and do some really cool things but it just didn’t work that way. There’s something to be said for living packed up like sardines and there stimulus the whole time. That’s what triggers it for me. That’s why think New your has been really crucial to my process.

You’ve had a number of series go viral, including most recently the ‘(de)hydrate’ series. What about your work do you think resonates with so many people?

I try to do things i’d like to see myself. I make myself the audience and think “that’d be really cool to explore that idea” and put it out there.  And not everything works. Everyone’s got a bunch of ideas and they’re worthless until they do something with them. That’s frustrating. When you just sit on them forever. I’ll do something and often it doesn’t work, but I’m not scared of failure and something looking like shit. I can either embrace it or distance myself from it.

With the (de)hydrate thing, I’m not the first person who tried to show how much sugar was in a drink, but it had never been done in an interesting way. The usual sugar cube next to the soda looked boring, so I thought: ‘Instead of showing how much is in the drink, why not use the drink’ to show the amount of sugar?’ That’s how I thought of the lollipops.

Even with the prisoners meals. Where I get a lot of my ideas from is when I’m reading. When I read about the subject and without a picture and I think ‘shit, that’s really interesting,’  the first thing I did was go online to see what they look like. And i realized no one had ever taken picture of a real one. But through the food, these people become human. That’s something I found when working at the bar that food was such a metaphor for who they were. whether they were going to be a nightmare or be easy; whether they’d want a beer or a fancy cocktail. 

What do you make of someone who orders beer?

Generally you’d order a beer because you want the cheapest thing at the bar (laughs). And believe me, I’m guilty of that the majority of time. I don’t want a $14 surprise of vodka and soda. So give me something I know I can drink.

I watched your TedTalk about ‘What your food says about you’. If someone was to look at the food you eat, what’d they say about you?

Maybe that I’m a creature of habit. I pretty much start my day with the same things. If I’m eating at home, I always have granola with fruit and yoghurt. But i’f I’m leaving for the studio, i’ll get a coffee and a pastry. I don’t like go too flashy with my food. I like to try new food, new places. I use food as an excuse to go exploring. I like that food takes you places you haven’t experienced before. Which is ironic because it’s the opposite to the way I start my day as I like to end my day with something unfamiliar.

Your work has focused mostly around food. Where does a food guru such as yourself eat?

Tonight I’m meeting a friend and have a couple of beers at Union Pool and I eat from the Taco Truck there. There’s King Noodle on Flushing Ave which I really dig. For the best breakfast pastries in New York, I’ll go to Brooklyn Ball Factory which is a Japanese cafe that does a croissant with a slice of ganache chocolate so it’s like a croissant/chocolate sandwich which is outrageously awesome. I really like Bar Sardine in West Village. To me they do the best burgers in New York.

One of my long time favorites is Moto in Brooklyn on Broadway. The owner is a guy named Jonny, who actually designed well-known spots like Five Leaves and Maison Premiere. Atmosphere wise, he always builds the best places. I’ll follow him to the end of the world.

You’re also behind the popular Instagram account Coffee Cups of the World. I know it’s a hard, but do you have some favorite coffee spots?

Around the lower Manhattan area I really like Two Hands and Happy Bones, as well as Dimes. I really like pastries, so there’s a place in Greenpoint called Ovenly which i think does really good cookies. Also Marlow and Sons. There’s also a place called AP Cafe off the Jefferson Stop. And finally Sweatshop, they’re very coffee-cup forward so I’m all about it. I’ve also become a drip coffee man. I was originally a snob about it, but I’ve changed.

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