Monday, September 9, 2013

Big Appetites: Tiny People in a World of Big Food



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It can be argued that photographer Christopher Boffoli has one of the cooler jobs in the world, as evidenced by his new book Big Appetites: Tiny People in a World of Big Food. We reached out to Boffoli to learn more about the photos he takes and where he gets the ideas behind them. Read on to see what he had to say about his work on Big Appetites (the book publishes on 9/10):

                                                         

 

I’m sure the original genesis for my Big Appetites photographs was in all of the media I consumed when I was growing up. Not only was the concept of mixing scale between characters and their environment a frequent plot device in movies like the Incredible Shrinking Woman and television shows like Dr. Shrinker, but it was all over advertising as well, from the Keebler elves to the Pillsbury doughboy to the Ralston Purina chuck wagon that would get chased by a dog from room to room. Scale juxtaposition is really an old idea that goes back to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels in the 18th century. And mankind’s obsession with miniatures goes back even farther if you consider all of the tiny ancient artifacts that one can find in museums around the world. In a more contemporary sense, I saw a couple of art exhibits in late 2002 that catalyzed my interest in working with scale figures in art. I chose food as a backdrop because I thought it offered beautiful color and texture. My serendipitous choice to employ what is essentially toy figures and food gave the work a power I did not foresee as these two components are among most common things in just about every culture in the world. Everyone can identify with toys from childhood. And whether you eat with a fork, chopsticks or your fingers, food is accessible to people cross-culturally. I’m sure those choices were the basis of how enthusiastically received these images have been around the world.

Zesty-mower
Zesty Mower: People frequently ask how long it takes to shoot one of these photographs. The answer is that it varies. Sometimes setting them up and getting them right can be tedious. But this was a case with an idea that came to me spontaneously and was quickly and easily shot. Sometimes I spend a lot of time working on images that don’t end up with a successful result. With Zesty Mower, it was a simple idea that ended up as a popular and well-received image. Sometimes you just have a feeling that an image is right. At other times you only know when you put it out in the world and see how people respond to it.

 

Macaron-team-1
Macaron Team: I always try to shoot with food that is fresh and in season. In this case, I sourced these beautiful macarons from a French bakery just a couple of blocks from my studio. All of my photographs are accompanied by a caption that reinforces the action and humor in the images. For this one, I had the idea that one of the bakers would step forward and take the credit for everyone else’s work. It is more fun for me – and hopefully for the viewer too – to have the figures be given a bit of a character arc.


Cheese-moon-smoker-1
Cheese Moon Smoker: Most of my images are photographed against a brightly colored background. But this one was a departure as it was among the first shot with a star field. I’m really not a fan of cigarette smoke, but the concept was that this man (who is smoking) has had to go to great lengths to find a place to where no one would complain about his smoking. I was trying to see the other side of the matter.

 

Salted-caramel-harvesters
Salted Caramel Harvesters: The salted caramels in this photograph were sourced locally from Seattle’s very own Fran’s Chocolates. They’re right by the register at mylocal market so I never manage to escape a shopping trip without buying some. It was inevitable that they’d make it in to one of my photographs. I can recall the exact day many years ago when I put a sprinkle of sea salt on some chocolate ice cream and made the connection between salt and chocolate. It was a transformative discovery for me. Salty and sweet usually works together well but this combination is always epic.

 

Ice-cream-sandwich-monolith-1
Ice Cream Sandwich Monolith: This photograph was one of a couple in my more recent work that have a cinematic inspiration. The monolithic ice cream sandwich is a reference to an early scene in Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey. There is a lot of cheating in commercial food photography so from the start I wanted the food items in my work to be real and edible. Obviously, working with melting ice cream added a bit of a challenge to creating this image. The surface of the moon here is stone ground corn flour, which had more character than simple bread flour.



Bagel fishermen-4
Bagel Fishermen: I already had a large body of work by the time Workman Publishing came along with an offer to turn the series into a book. They loved what they had already seen and yet encouraged me to push myself to create fresh work for the book. It was a stressful proposition at first. But when I went back into the studio and began brainstorming, I realized that there were so many foods that I hadn’t worked with. The variety of food and flavors that are available for us to eat really is staggering. That helped to fuel my imagination. Bagels are such quintessentially New York item so I felt that I had to include them in some form.

 

Strawberry-seed-poachers
Strawberry Seed Poachers: Around the time I shot this image I had been reading a lot of stories in the press about the havoc being caused by copper thieves. So I transplanted the motivation to a group of men stripping the seeds from strawberries. The question I’m always left wondering is not only who is perpetrating the thefts, but the mystery of who is fencing all of these stolen strawberry seeds.
 

 



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