A Photographer Offers Another Way To Burn Off Calories

How do you overcome fast-food temptation? Set that burger ablaze, says Henry Hargreaves.

Some say that slapping calorie counts on menus effectively helps consumers decide whether to have fries with that. Others (guess who) argue that those assessments are faulty; that there’s just “not enough science” to link, say, sugary foods to obesity, or even that such mandates–in the case of calorie labeling, signed into law by President Obama a few years back–are a breach of the marketplace by overreaching politicians.


For photographer Henry Hargreaves, there’s plenty of blame to go around. His new photo essay, “Burning Calories,” takes a literal approach to handling the thorny caloric issue: Burn it all to hell.

Hargreaves’s photos depict an assortment of iconic fast foods and snacks lit up in flames. A ring of fire dances atop an oversize donut. The oil content of takeout lo mein feeds a small inferno. The junk food, of course, isn’t real–or at least, not in the way you think. Each piece was crafted out of sheetcake and frosting, with a few exceptions (chopsticks, a French fry sleeve) by Hargreaves’s accomplice, Amirah Kassem of Flourshop. The edible sculptures were placed on silver paper–“to reflect and amplify the colors and fire,” Hargreaves says–and then doused with lighter fuel.

Food is a recurring motif in the Brooklyn-based photographer’s work. Previously, he staged moody still lifes composed of nom noms that Rihanna, Beyoncé, and other pop stars enjoy snacking on backstage. He also battered and deep-fried a series of gizmos, gadgets, and tablets to satirize our consumer culture’s infatuation with tech upgrades.

For “Burning Calories,” Hargreaves had some difficulty capturing the individual bonfires, not to mention fanning the smoke in his studio. The soft serve cone was rather “top heavy” and constantly threatened to topple over. The noodles, made out of edible paper, were instantly reduced to embers, leaving Hargreaves to make do with just one take.

Though he tries to downplay the essay’s critical edge, telling Co. Design that it’s “mostly just eye candy,” Hargreaves does offer up a more pointed opinion: “Calorific information, driven by the Big Brother-mandated belief that knowledge is power, is all around us,” he writes in the project statement, “but it only makes the inevitable failure to overcome temptation more depressing.” In this way, vanquishing the objects of our insatiable desires makes perfect sense. Burn, baby, burn.

[Photo credit: Henry Hargreaves, Cakes: Amirah Kassem]


About the author

Sammy is a writer, designer, and ice cream maker based in New York. He once lived in China before being an editor at Architizer.