Where you find inspiration is irrelevant. It’s what you do with it that really matters.
Christopher Boffoli’s entire childhood was inspired by imagination. To him, it was a matter of survival. And it still is. As the protagonist in his own life, and a creative from a very early age, the Seattle-based photographer, writer, journalist and filmmaker has continued to allow his fantasy world to traverse with reality.
Boffoli has gained international acclaim for his Big Appetites work, which has been published in more than 100 countries. His photographs are even shown in private collections and galleries in the US, Canada, Europe and Asia. Not to mention, there are countless amateurs out there trying to emulate or plagiarize his work.
“I would much rather spend my time being creative than have to deal with copyright issues,” Boffoli confesses. “But it is an unfortunate fact of life in a digital age and in our cut and paste culture. It has been a sad and disturbing fact that the same power of the Internet that helped spread awareness of my work can also be used by people who have no moral compass about stealing and benefiting from the work of others. These people are not only interfering with my ability to make a living from my work, but they’re cheating themselves by not spending their time working on new, original ideas of their own.”
He wasn’t always an avid photographer. It was something he picked up as a hobby. For most of his life, he saw himself as more of a writer and aspired to do that for a living, which explains the often overlooked captions that go along with his images. Having a successful, full-time career as visual artist was not something he anticipated.
It wasn’t at all a linear career path, but when you’re a creative, “it is going to come out of you in whatever way it can. Labels like ‘writer’ or ‘artist’ are really just things designed so that people can put you into easily digestible categories. The creative process works in irregular, surprising ways.”
Some of his early work began using things like flowers, crayons and other items, but Boffoli inevitably made the decision to strictly work with food for its aesthetics and endless variety. The food is where it all begins, and it’s a lot more complicated than we have been led to believe. Although it is one of the few universal subjects, as a society we have a false familiarity with it that contradicts its intricacies.
His realization of the tremendous disconnect between the veracity of food and society’s actual perception of the way it should look prompted him to make it the focal point of his compositions. Since we typically view the food we consume from about an arms length, capturing it through a macro lens only amplifies all of the flaws.
“This is especially true in the United States, where we are surrounded by media images of gorgeous, perfect food – much of which has been heavily tampered with by commercial food photographers,” Boffoli said, before placing additional emphasis on the creative process. “I’ll select the food, bring it back to the studio, clean, cut and style it and then start to set it up for the shot based both on the geometry of the food and also the context of how the figures might be interacting with the food environment. From there, I’ll adjust camera position and lighting. The figures will go on last. Most often than not, it is an organic process. For me, Big Appetites is inexorably tied to the Pacific Northwest if for no other reason than the light here is ideal for what I’m currently doing."
Growing up with attention deficit disorder (ADD), as well as being on the “outer fringes of the autism spectrum,” Boffoli faced challenges when it came to navigating the world around him. Not surprisingly, he found a safe haven within the pages of his favorite books, as well the realms of make-believe. He was able to use his imagination as a form of communication that reached depths much more profound than words ever could.
By translating his views of the world through art in a non-linear fashion, Boffoli honed his innate ability to interpret his version of reality with great visual depth and dexterity.
Boffoli’s images have a way of conveying something deeper about America’s deeply entrenched obsession with food, but the captions are just as important as the images, as they reinforce the situations in the photographs or suggest what may happen next.
“Though my Big Appetites work is designed with top notes of humor and surprise, there are some criticisms of America’s food dysfunction that I’m often trying to impart. As a child, I was attracted to imagination as a safety net and as an adult I gained the confidence and independence to embrace the truth of things. I’ve never really considered my own story arc that way, but it feels like an accurate assessment now that I think about it. I’m definitely trying to charge the work with an activist view of America’s often dysfunctional relationship with food. I think the captions come out of my being a writer and wanting to elaborate on the scenes. As to where the ideas come from I don’t really know. It’s like drawing water from a well. You just crank the empty bucket down into the dark when you need something and hope that when you crank it back up it will be full of clear, cool and refreshing ideas.”
Despite living in the limelight for the past few years, Boffoli isn’t one to dwell on praise or acclaim, as his success with Big Appetites came rather unexpectedly. After all, he worked on this project for the better part of a decade before it received any recognition.
Sometimes, the best things in life are unexpected. In actuality, he spends more time stressing over the long list of details he must keep track of on a weekly basis and being hard on himself (as most creatives are), while also doing his best to take opportunities as they come.
“Most of the time I just feel like I’m Forrest Gumping my way through it all, trying to manage it and make the best decisions. I don’t know how long this will all last so I’m fine to put aside other creative endeavors for the moment and focus on this work while it is viable. It definitely has been amazing to have had my work covered by so many prestigious media outlets,” he explains. “By far, though, what I really love is getting the chance to attend international exhibitions of my work and to see people laughing and engaging with the work. Catalyzing an honest emotion or a reaction in an audience is perhaps the greatest payoff of any creative endeavor.”
While Boffoli’s intricate figures have provoked a lot of journalists to say that he “likes to play with his food,” this couldn’t be further from the truth. Because, if people were to actually see how minuscule the figures are (about 20mm) they would understand that there is nothing playful about it.
Preparing and painting the figures is tiresome, especially when faced with the challenges of arranging them on and around the food.
“The more figures you see in an image, the tougher it was to get the shot. Of course the juxtaposition of scale – between the figures and the food – provides the elements of surprise and humor that makes these images work,” the talented artist says. “But the detail of the figures is really key. It is so vital that they look proportional and real at first glance. If it is clear that they’re toys I think you lose something.”
We can certainly learn a lot from Boffoli, not just simply that we should use our natural talents to obtain a more affluent, fulfilling life, or to humbly take pleasure in a well-deserved success, but also, as a society, to strive to create original ideas instead of sitting around regurgitating content and never having a creative thought of our own. According to Boffoli, everyone in the world is obviously the sum total of all of the influences they consume. We are what we eat.
“I feel like I was just someone who was lucky. Though how does that saying go? Luck is when opportunity meets preparation. That’s more accurate. In a sense, I was prepared when this all happened. Like anything, there are plenty of difficult aspects of success,” he continues. “But there are often days when I’m in my studio with the soft light streaming in, I have a hot cup of coffee in my hands, the music is on, I’m getting ready to set up a shot and it hits me how fortunate I am not only to be doing something that I enjoy, but to have the freedom and flexibility to either work or not work on a particular day. Outside my studio, I see people commuting to work in the freezing cold, looking grim as they’re on their way to sell insurance, and I feel tremendously grateful to be where I am at the moment. But I don’t think there is anything inherently special about my capacity to be creative. Everyone has the ability to be creative and original.”