Food looms large as a western landscape in Christopher Boffoli’s world. He has spent the past six or seven years photographing it. The scenes are exquisitely lighted, the lights and darks enhanced by the small industries of the figures who work in and around it.
He uses models, chosen for their ability to maintain a single pose: construction workers, janitors, people who operate machinery. Boffoli owns them all, as they are toys, made of plastic, that stand a half inch tall.
The process is tedious, says the travel photojournalist, and harder than it looks. But the end result is whimsy, currently about 110 images strong, that seems to have universal appeal. It has earned him notoriety, fine-arts fans and a James Beard nomination. It has even inspired “parallel work,” has he calls it — a polite term for copycats in the digital age.
“Food seemed like a perfect backdrop,” he said in a 2011 interview on TheKitchn.com, a popular food blog. “It can be very beautiful in terms of color and texture, especially when photographed with macro lenses and natural light.” (The interview, titled “Tiny Food Worlds: An Interview With Christopher Boffoli,” was nominated in the humor category of the 2012 Beard media awards; a head-scratcher. “Didn’t seem like the right fit,” he says.)
The 42-year-old Seattle resident grew up with Matchbox cars and model trains. A show of dioramas he saw at the Saatchi Gallery in London in 2002 sparked his idea to place tiny people alongside craggy baked goods and mountains of berries. An editor saw his images and asked Boffoli whether he’d be interested in syndicating them in Europe. They went viral in months. Boffoli has had gallery shows in London, Monaco and Toronto in addition to his hometown. Sometimes he collaborates with chef Scott Carsberg of Bisato in Seattle, whom he considers a true artist.
To reinforce what he views as his work’s inherent social commentary — how we as Americans relate to large portions of food — he captions the images.
“Context is important,” he says.
Boffoli has a one-man show opening in a Chelsea gallery in New York this week. His images will fetch $650 to $5,000, printed on acrylic di-bond and measuring up to 30 by 40 inches. Private collectors and corporations buy the work; someone has already purchased 30 pieces in a pre-show sale.
“Toys and food are accessible to everybody,” he says “I’ll shoot till I run out of ideas.”
Boffoli will join our Free Range chat on Wednesday at noon.