Whatever you do, don’t ask Christopher Boffoli ’93 if his mother ever told him not to play with his food. He gets that a lot. All the time. Day, after day, after day. So much, in fact, that Boffoli claims, “If I had a dollar for every time an interviewer has asked me that question in the past year, I’d have my own Gulfstream jet on 24-hour standby right now.”
You see, Boffoli makes art, and a living, playing with food. He takes photographs of miniature scenes featuring humans in delectable landscapes of edible stuff. There are shots of bicyclists pedaling along the skin of a banana, mountaineers scaling a peak of stacked cookies and scuba divers taking a dip into a warm cup of tea, among others. In each, the tiny figurines are delicately crafted and positioned to create a whimsical tableau that prominently features the astounding and varied textures of so many types of food.
These photographs, part of his Big Appetite series that has been published or exhibited in more than 90 countries and nominated for a James Beard Award last spring, are inspired by Boffoli’s memories of his youth, in which he played with miniature toys, such as Matchbox cars, and generally marveled at how the world seemed outsized for a kid. The photographs, he adds, can be appreciated by nearly anyone, given that toys and food are valued in almost every culture. That said, he cautions against regarding his tedious and time-consuming artwork as child’s play.
“While there is obviously humor intended in my work, there are also more serious themes that the series is intended to address: American overconsumption, portion sizes, food spectatorship, et cetera,” says Boffoli, who resides in Seattle. “Each image is also designed to be accompanied by a caption, which is half the work and just as important as the images themselves.”
That’s not to diminish the painstaking craftsmanship involved in creating a scene.
“The figures I work with are tiny and generally not very well-suited to standing on food. What I do requires a great deal of patience,” says Boffoli. “Then again, creating art certainly requires a certain amount of playfulness in your approach to the world, as it’s often the errand of an artist to select ordinary things and rearrange them to suit our capricious whims.”
Beyond the challenges posed by the figurines, it can be difficult to photograph food in a flattering way. Most food looks good from a distance but reveals flaws when examined closely. Boffoli buys extra food in preparation for his photo shoots to make sure he has the best models. Rarely will he eat the food afterward, considering it has been sitting on a miniature set for hours. The only exception, he confesses, is patisserie.
His indulgence is not limited to sweets, however. He is gracious enough to answer that most obvious question.
“To be honest, I can’t recall my mother ever scolding me for playing with my food. I’m half Italian, so I was always a good eater. I did have a habit of separating my food on the plate, like sorting the peas and carrots into their component piles,” he says. “It was always as if I were trying to arrange the food like colors on an artist’s palette.”
Indeed, it seems Boffoli has always had the appetite of an artist.
– Jason Ryan