Big Appetites: An Interview With Christopher Boffoli

Since our conversation with him two years ago, Christopher Boffoli has been busy photographing a whole universe of tiny people interacting with giant food in surprising, funny and illuminating ways. And with the release of his new book, Big Appetites, you can finally have a your own collection of his photographs to pore over and share with your friends. We followed up with Christopher to find out a little bit more about the challenges of creating his food-based scenes and what it is about his photos that make them so irresistible.

What is the biggest challenge of working with food in your photographs?

It’s probably finding food that not only looks good to the eye but that also holds up under the scrutiny of photography with macro lenses. We think we know what food looks like, but the truth is that almost without exception we see it at an arm’s length in a market or on the table in front of us. There is a lot of cheating in commercial food photography and my commitment from the start was that all of food in every one of my frames would be real and edible. So that means not only a lot more work for me in scrutinizing the food I plan to shoot, but working very hard to light it properly, and then later doing a fair amount of digital clean-up to remove flaws and to hopefully bridge the gap between the perception and reality of food. Beyond that, liquids and melting foods obviously have their own inherent challenges based on simple physics.

Your work seems to have struck a chord with food-lovers. What do you think it is about your photographs that elicits such a strong response?

I wish I could say that I’m clever enough to have known in advance that my choice of food as a subject would have this kind of response but of course the truth always defies a simple explanation. I just thought the color and texture of food held great promise, not to mention the tremendous variety. But if you distill the elements of this work, it is essentially toys and food, two of the most common components in just about every culture in the world. Food gives you that cross-cultural accessibility. We all have a lifetime of experience with food. That’s perhaps why food is often a “gateway drug” in the sense that it is the first thing we might experience of an exotic, foreign culture.

Certainly I think some of the credit goes to the figures and mankind’s general fascination with miniatures. As a child I was deluged with cinema, television and advertising that exploited the concept of juxtaposing tiny people with an out of scale environment. In fact, advertising is still using this concept, from the Keebler Elves, to the Pillsbury doughboy, to a recent ad campaign for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream with little miniature scenes. It’s everywhere because it always seems to work in drawing people’s attention.

I think we’re also living in an age of food media ubiquity, especially in the United States where we are the gold standard in terms of production value. We have entire television networks that broadcast nothing but programming about food. And it is astounding how many gorgeously photographed cookbooks and culinary magazines there are. So beyond my fine art photographs there is a considerable cultural interest in looking at food, even for those of us who aren’t so interested in cooking it ourselves.

What's next for you? Any big projects you are excited about or that we should look out for?

My Big Appetites book just launched here in North America and I’ll be working very hard this autumn to spread the word as it becomes available in the rest of the world. At the moment I’m in the midst of fabricating fine art photographs for three solo shows — in the UK, in Canada and at home in Seattle — in the month of October. Most people have seen my work online so it is always exciting to be able to exhibit large format photographs where people can come out and see my work in high resolution and rich color. By far, my favorite aspect of the success of these images is getting to attend exhibitions so I can see and hear people laughing and engaging with the photographs. It’s a really great feeling.

I’m excited to have been invited to exhibit my work next spring at the James Beard House in NYC. But in the meantime, I’m looking forward to getting through a very busy fall and finding time after the holidays to get back in the studio. I’ve already been making sketches for a new body of work that will move away from miniature figures but that will still involve food.

Thanks, Christopher!

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More from Christopher Boffoli

→ Buy his book: Big Appetites: Tiny People in a World of Big Food
→ Check out his website for more info on upcoming exhibitions

(Images: Christopher Boffoli)

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