Today I’m excited to bring you a new series where I chat with living, breathing artists (as opposed to most of these) about their work, process and of course, food! I am thrilled to start off with a few questions with the super-talented Christopher Boffoli, the photographer behind Big Appetites. Christopher’s work is bright, humorous and fun. In his series Big Appetites, which he has been working on since 2003, Boffoli creates tiny diorama-like scenes with food and miniature figurines. The resulting photographs are witty and interesting; even if you’ve never tasted a pastel-hued French macaron, seeing a tiny group of chefs shoveling buttercream filling will probably make you smile, and it may even bring you back to your childhood or a particular food memory.
I’m a huge admirer of Boffoli’s work, and I’m not alone. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Lucky Peach and Fast Company, as well as ads for MasterCard and Citibank. If you are not following this guy’s work, start now!
I paired Boffoli’s Peanut Butter Cup Repair with my own homemade peanut butter cups. These decadent treats are so much better than Reese’s and super easy to make. In fact, they are no-bake – that’s right, no need to turn on your oven in this summer heat and melt. Just assemble, chill and enjoy!
Homemade Peanut Butter Cups
1 cup creamy peanut butter (not natural)
¼ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup brown sugar
1 ¼ cup powdered sugar
4 cup dark chocolate chips (2 11.5 oz. bags)
¼ cup canola oil
Line a mini-muffin pan with paper liners, and set aside. In a small saucepan, heat the peanut butter, butter and brown sugar over medium heat, stirring frequently. Cook until the mixture is completely melted together. Remove from heat, and stir in the powdered sugar. Set the mixture aside, and let cool.
As that cools, melt the chocolate chips and oil together in the microwave. Stir together completely, and using a small spoon, spoon a little melted chocolate into the bottom of each paper liner – you want the chocolate to completely cover the bottom of the liner. Next, spoon a teaspoon-sized amount of the peanut butter mixture, roll it in a ball, gently flatten into a disc, and place on top of the melted chocolate in the muffin tin. Repeat for each liner, and then fill the rest of the cup with melted chocolate.
Chill the peanut butter cups in the freezer for about 30 minutes to really set, and then you are ready to snack out!
8 Questions with…Christopher Boffoli
I love your food dioramas! What has been your favorite food to work with? Thanks. I don’t know that I really have any foods that I like to work with more than others. The important thing is that the food has the suitable color, texture, geometry, etc. that fits what I need on the given day that I’m shooting it. It is also essential that what I’m photographing is fresh and in season as when you shoot food with macro lenses it tends to accentuate any imperfections. With that said, certain foods are easier than others. My figures aren’t really designed to stand on their own so shooting with something like buttercream frosting obviously makes my life a lot easier.
Do you find yourself constantly hungry, considering your work? No, not really. One tends to take a more clinical approach to the subject matter when it is a
matter of craft as opposed to nourishment. I’m not looking at the food for its flavor but for the way it looks and the way it will serve the image I’m creating. I tend to be more preoccupied with the challenges at hand: composition, lighting, finding the context between the figures and the food. Likewise, I doubt fashion photographers are constantly thinking of sex. As a professional what you’re doing is work not play.
How do you work? What is your creative process like? The process can vary. Sometimes I’ll get an idea and will make a sketch for a specific design. It can be built around a certain food or a particular context (how the figures will be interacting with a type of food). At other times I approach the food without an idea and work through it in the studio, trying various angles and different figures and contexts. The food gets selected, cleaned, cut and styled, arrangements are laid out over paper backdrops of complimentary colors, and then figures are carefully applied. Sometimes the idea doesn’t work out and I’ll try different figures or a different angle on the food. After I’m happy with what I have I’ll take the images back to the computer and will work for hours digitally painting out imperfections. We tend to have an idea of the way food is supposed to look that’s fairly different from the way it actually renders under the scrutiny of macro lenses.
Where do you go for inspiration? Inspiration is really everywhere. Sometimes just walking through a farmer’s market does the trick. But I don’t ever really feel the need to “go” anywhere (either on the internet or in the real world) as inspiration usually comes to me. It is just a matter of being open, perceptive and ready for it. If ever there is a particular idea I am trying to work out, or a caption that I’m trying to write (all of my images are paired with written captions that are designed to expand on the image) I’ll jump in the shower. Escaping digital distractions and calming oneself with hot water is actually a really great place to distill creative ideas.
How did you get into photography? I was given a camera as a gift when I was about 15 years old. I always saw myself as more of a writer and photography was just another manifestation of my creativity. I never really had any formal training early on. It was more the school of taking so many bad pictures that you eventually start to get it right. I shot pictures as a college journalist and ending up starting my own commercial photography company while I was still an undergraduate (doing event photography for the fraternities and sororities at my college). From there photography was almost always just an avocation and I never thought I’d make a living as a visual artist. But then in 2011 an editor discovered my Big Appetites photographs – which I began shooting in 2003. The photographs were syndicated in Europe and much to my surprise they led to a full time career as a fine art, commercial and editorial photographer.
What is your dream project? I’m in a very fortunate position to be on the receiving end of a steady stream of really great offers from a range of potential collaborators. Some of them are more challenging than others and some I ultimately have to pass on just because they aren’t a good fit or the timing isn’t right. But overall Big Appetites HAS been a dream project in that I’m doing something that I love, I have complete freedom to travel or take time off whenever it suits me, and I’m making a good living in a creative field.
What artist(s) do you most admire? There are far too many to list here. Though if pressed to pick one I’d say Martha Graham. She invented a new language of movement that changed indelibly everything that came after her. I’ve read about and studied her life extensively and she was the most incredible artist and innovator. I have a print of Barbara Morgan’s iconic 1940 photograph of Ms. Graham in her dance “Letter to the World” and it is a constant source of inspiration.
Describe your perfect meal. Is it even possible that there is a perfect meal? One of the reasons I chose food as a subject of my work is that it offered an endless variety so I knew I would never run out of things to shoot. There is just so much, how could I possibly commit to one choice? Some of the themes of Big Appetites have to do with portion size and excess. I’ve overheard people at exhibitions look at my photographs and say, for instance, “I wish I were the woman in that image, standing next to a towering piece of chocolate cake so I could just tunnel through it.” But in truth, even our most favorite foods would be repulsive to us if we had to eat a huge quantity of it or were forced to eat it too frequently. Anyway, I’d like to think there is no such thing as a perfect meal. Food is an art form that is temporary, that is consumed and then is gone.
Thank you so much, Christopher!! For more on fun, food-based scenes, check out his book: Big Appetites: Tiny People in a World of Big Food 🙂
Recipe adapted from Brown Eyed Baker, makes about 3 dozen minis
Featured art: Big Appetites by Christopher Boffoli, Macaron Team / Caramel Salt Harvesters / Peanut Butter Cup Repair Technicians / Cookie Climbers. Copyright © by the artist and used with permission.