You’ve heard the old phrase “You are what you eat.” A new photography venture called The Last Meals Project amends the adage into “You were what you ate.” Photographer Jonathon Kambouris juxtaposes death row mug shots with a description of the inmate’s last meal, and then superimposes photos of the food on top. The effect is quieting and humbling, bringing the viewer closer to the humanity behind the menace.
Kambouris first became fascinated with death row inmates and last meals after reading a newspaper clipping about the final day of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. “The story spoke of the build up to the execution and described his final moments and last meal,” he told Twenty-Four Hours Zine. “When I read that Timothy McVeigh chose two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream as his last meal, it immediately sent a shiver down my spine and left a lasting effect on me.”
“The last meal is the last choice one can make before being put to death, Kambouris explains. “Because of the extreme importance of this ritual, this choice of a last meal is unarguably honest and true.”
(Utne recently covered the moral politics of the death penalty. In one article, Sister Helen Prejean talks about America’s bloody obsession with retribution. In another, a Texas-based writer chronicles a death row inmate’s final twelve days.)