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Have We Become Food Spectators?

Christopher Boffoli’s weird, meticulous miniatures satirize America’s “dysfunctional relationship with food.”

What do you get when you mix the post-millennial American ennui of American Beauty with the lusciously art-directed imagery of a food magazine? “Disparity,” a series of impish-but-eerie photographs in which mysterious micro-scenes–a hazmat spill, a diving expedition–are set in, and on, everyday food items like cupcakes and oranges.

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Co.Design asked photographer Christopher Boffoli to explain the origins of his oddly compelling vision.

What inspired this series and its design?

For a long time, I’ve been interested in size disparity and a juxtaposition of scales between people and the environment around them. It seemed to be a very popular device in television and movies that I saw as a kid in the late ’70s and early ’80s (like Sid and Marty Krofft’s show Dr. Shrinker and films like The Incredible Shrinking Woman, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and Innerspace, etc.) Long before that, from the earliest days of cinema, filmmakers were exploiting the dramatic effects of having tiny characters fleeing from, say, horrifyingly giant insects.

Of course, the concept goes back hundreds of years earlier, with the Lilliputians in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels in the 18th century. It seems at once a timeless and versatile theme, whether employed for a summer popcorn movie or social satire circa 1726. There is something about this concept of size disparity that people find compelling.

Why giant food and tiny people?

If you consider that the components of this work are toys and food, those two elements are just about the most common things in absolutely every culture in the world, regardless of language, nationality, and social status. So the work was designed to be instantly engaging and familiar. But the mix of scales toys with perception in a way that conjures humor.

At the same time, the overall work is making a larger statement on America’s sometimes dysfunctional relationship with food. In the U.S., there are heaps of cookbooks that come out every year. And we have entire cable television networks with nothing but food. But the amount of people who are actually cooking has declined, and we’ve largely become food spectators.

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Did you design the figurines and other scene-setting items yourself?

Though I will sometimes modify or repaint them, most of the figures I use are meticulously hand-painted in Germany. All of the food is cleaned, cut, and styled in my studio. Though there is often a good deal of cheating in commercial food photography, all of the food in my images is real. I try to work with in-season food items as much as possible. Fruits and vegetables in particular tend to be beautifully colored and textured, especially when photographed with macro lenses.

[See more of Disparity at Boffoli’s website]

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.

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