The Business Insider interviews Christopher Boffoli

14 Photos Of Matchstick People Climbing On Food

We recently came across one of Chris Boffoli’s photos from Big Appetites, a set of images that reminded us of a scene out of Gulliver’s Travels, with matchstick-sized people playing on Titanic-sized fruit.

We were hooked. Fortunately, there are tons of photos in the series, and Boffoli was kind enough to share some with us. And his Big Appetites images will be featured in a show at Winston Wächter Fine Art in Chelsea starting Thursday, June 21.

Business Insider: How did you come up with the idea for the series?

Chris Boffoli: The genesis of my Big Appetites series of fine art photographs (which I have also called “Disparity”) was in a lot of the media I was exposed to as a child. There were so many films and television shows that exploited both the dramatic and comedy potential of the juxtaposition of different scales: tiny people in a normal-sized world. (Honey I Shrunk the Kids, The Incredible Shrinking Woman, Innerspace, etc.). It is a surprisingly common cultural theme going back all the way to old Hollywood, and back farther to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels in the 18th century.

I think it is especially resonant with children because as a child you live in an adult world that is out of scale with your own body and proportions. And you constantly exercise your imagination around a world of toys that are further out of scale. As a child I was an avid collector of Matchbox cars, a model railroader and a builder of models (cars, ships and airplanes). I was fascinated, as many children and adults are, with tiny, meticulously detailed things.

Jumping forward, I encountered some art exhibits at the Saatchi gallery in London in 2002 that used scale figures in elaborate dioramas. I think it was the Chapman Brothers’ work “In Hell.” And about a year later I saw the incredibly brilliant Travelers series by Walter Martin and Paloma Munoz which presented intimate scenes, populated with scale figures, in snow globes. I particularly liked the idea of engaging a viewer with snowglobes, a format that is typically whimsical and fun, and then presenting something that was dark and often disturbing. These were really the works that got me thinking about starting work on a series of my own photographs with scale figures.

When I began shooting some of the very earliest images in this series, around 2003-04, food was a conscious choice as it can be very beautiful – in terms of texture and color – especially when shot with available light and macro lenses. Combining what is essentially food and toys makes the work instantly accessible to virtually everyone, and thus more powerful. Regardless of language, culture and social status, almost everyone can identify with toys from their childhood. And whether you eat with a fork, chopsticks or your hands, everyone understands food. Sitting down to a meal makes us feel most human. And exotic foods are often a proverbial gateway drug into foreign cultures.

BI: How long does it take to set up a single scene?

CB: That depends. There really is no average. It’s highly variable. Sometimes I will sketch out an idea in advance and will know exactly what I want to shoot. At other times I will opportunistically find an image based on something that I encounter at the local farmers market. I bring the food back to the studio, cut and style it and then spend time making decisions about light, depth of field and camera angles. I try to determine what the context is between the figure(s) and their environment. On occasion it works very quickly. Most often it takes a lot longer, as I make adjustments or even change out the figures to something that makes more sense.  When I get lucky, I end up with a successful image that resonates with people who see it.

BI: Where do the figurines come from–do you make them?

CB: That is the most common question I get. But my general answer is that my models are protected by all manner of esoteric union rules and I could get myself into trouble by revealing too much about them.

BI: Do you have to treat the foods a special way to photograph them?

CB: No, not really. In fact, from the beginning I have been committed to the notion that everything in my images should be real. There is just so much cheating in commercial food photography, where things like white glue stand in for milk and glass cubes stand in for real ice. It is important to me that I use food that is fresh and in season. And even the agave nectar that I use as an adhesive – to secure the figures to the food – is edible. I’m not averse to repairing things digitally as we generally don’t see food as closely as it is rendered with high-quality optics. But otherwise I don’t apply anything artificial to enhance the natural beauty of the food.  Even the illumination I use is limited to natural, available light.

BI: Is there a message you’re sending with the photos?

CB: Yes, though I never want to be too didactic. It’s good to leave some space for people to find their own way into the work. However, the images are designed to be funny, and most are paired with a caption which reinforces their action and humor. The series was also intended to impart criticism of American over-consumption, portion sizes, and the extent to which we’ve become food spectators. Where else but in America can we relate to massive portions of chocolate cake? A doughnut is a wonderful treat but one is not enough: we sell them by the dozen. And In 2012 we have entire food networks filled with nothing but food-related shows. There are heaps of magazines and cookbooks that are constantly cranked out with absolutely stunning photography. But despite this education about the broadest range of food stuffs from a global marketplace, too many of us eat the same prosaic processed foods week after week.

BI: Do you have a favorite–one that’s particularly humorous?

CB: Actually, it is much more fun for me to find out which ones people react to most when they see them. That’s a lot more interesting. There are some that I particularly like that get overlooked at the same time the galleries respond strongly to others. I guess I’d say that I like some of the images that are more in the realm of dark humor. For instance, there is a rarer image of a little girl getting chased off the top of a chocolate cupcake by a man wielding a pick axe. And the caption is:  “No one was exactly happy about what happened to Chloe. But they also couldn’t say the little brat hadn’t been warned.” For some reason I find those kinds of pictures the most entertaining.

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