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Seattle-based photographer Christopher Boffoli has an odd and intriguing relationship with food. In his Disparity series, a stack of cookies is the setting for 'rock climbers,' and rice is more than just a bed for stir-fry.
Photos courtesy of Christopher Boffoli
GOOD: What was the inspiration for the Disparity series?
Christopher Boffoli: [The] Disparity series was originally inspired by a lot of media I saw as a kid growing up in the '80s. There were so many TV shows and movies that used the device of tiny-scale people in a big world. I was also really into model building, electric racecars, and model railroading as a kid. Kids in general live in an out-of-scale, adult world. And meticulously detailed toys are even smaller representations of real life things. So I'm sure all of that was the genesis.
A more recent influence was a series of Chapman brothers’ dioramas that I saw at the Saatchi Gallery in London in 2002. That's what first made me consider using scale figures as a medium. Around that same time I saw a work called the Travelers by Walter Martin and Paloma Munuz, which was scale figures presented inside snow globes. I loved the idea of presenting something whimsical that draws you in only to show you what were sometimes disturbing scenes. I thought that work was brilliant. I made some test images with figures and food shortly after that. And then the idea germinated over several years as I came up with ideas on and off.
GOOD: Why food?
Boffoli: The choice of food as a backdrop seemed a natural fit. The work is comprised essentially of toys and food; two of the most common things to just about everyone in the world. No matter what language you speak, your culture, or your station in life, these are things that are accessible to virtually everyone. Food can also be really beautiful, with natural colors and textures, especially photographed with natural, available light through macro lenses.
GOOD: What intrigues you personally about the perspective?
Boffoli: On the surface, the images are intended to be whimsical and funny. Though, there is also an intended commentary about American over-consumption, our often dysfunctional relationship with food, and the level to which we've become food spectators and have become detached from the impact our consumption has on both the environment and the laborers who produce the food.
I've often heard people react to my photographs by saying things like, ‘I wish I had a piece of chocolate cake five stories high so I could tunnel through it.’ So that's the fantasy. But the reality is that even our favorite foods would be repulsive to us if we ate a mountain of them. Then again, bigger and more is a very American idea. One doughnut is a delicious treat. But we have to have a dozen of them.
GOOD: What are some of the logistics of shooting the images? The people are so tiny, and the food looks so delicious.
Boffoli: Production of the images usually starts with the food. I like to work with what's in season and fresh. I might go to the farmers market and see what looks good… There can be a lot of cheating in food photography where, for instance, white glue is substituted for milk and glass cubes stand in for ice. But I wanted everything in my images to be real and edible, even the agave nectar, or the wheat-based putty I use to adhere the figures to the food for each shot. I always try to use natural light as much as possible too.
Shooting photographs like this looks easy. But it is actually tricky to get the lighting and depth of field right. Not to mention how tedious it is to get the very tiny figures posed and arranged. They're constantly falling over and needing to be reset. Sometimes I'll have to stop and change them out, modify or repaint them. My figures are also unionized so I often have to work around lots of esoteric rules about how much time they're allowed to stand around on the surface of grapefruits before they get mandatory breaks and bonus citrus pay.
Boffolli says half the battle is coming up with a clever caption.
"It was SO like Patty: Right idea, wrong execution."
Green Bean Sawmill
"Daniel and Paul could be very productive once they stopped bickering about the best approach to the problem. "
"It was the exact moment that Larry knew those advanced judo lessons were really going to pay off."
Cracked Egg Road Crew
"I told them production was moving too fast. But no one wanted to listen."
The Problem Novice
"The sisters knew communication with the young novice would be futile. At least until the LSD wore off."