It’s a big autumn for West Seattle writers/artists publishing books – and we are particularly proud of the one whose book officially went on sale today: Longtime WSB contributing photojournalist Christopher Boffoli, whose “tiny people in a world of big food” photographs and wry captions now comprise a book titled “Big Appetites.” The first published photo in the series – more than five years ago! – was the one atop this story Christopher wrote for WSB. Since then, the “Big Appetites” series have been showcased in galleries and publications from coast to coast and around the world. And in case you missed the CBS TV feature last weekend:
That’s just one of many stories about Christopher and the new book – and how he creates the photos; several WSB’ers also sent us the link to this NPR story. He’ll be signing “Big Appetites” right here in West Seattle on Thursday night: During the September edition of the West Seattle Art Walk, Christopher will be at Click! Design That Fits (4540 California SW; WSB sponsor). Before then – read about the photo series here – and, in his own words below, what Christopher told us about how this all began, and snowballed:
The original genesis of Big Appetites was in a lot of the media I watched as a child. The concept of scale juxtaposition – with tiny figures in a normal-sized world – seemed to be employed everywhere, in films like The Incredible Shrinking Woman and Honey I Shrunk to Kids, to TV shows like Dr. Shrinker and in endless commercials from the Keebler Elves to the Pillsbury Doughboy to the tiny Ralston Purina chuck wagon that would get chased into the kitchen by a dog. When I was a child I was an avid collector of Matchbox cars, I was constantly building scale models and I also loved electric race car sets and model railroading. In a more contemporary sense, an exhibit I saw at the Saatchi Gallery in London in December 2002 (by the Chapman Brothers) which used tiny figures in large dioramas reignited the idea. I was also inspired by a work called The Travelers by Walter Martin and Paloma Munoz that used similar figures inside snow globes.
The first images I made in this series were done at the end of 2002 and in early 2003 when I still lived in New York City.
But since I had just made the switch to digital cameras at that point I wasn’t satisfied with the results. It also took me a while to work out the method of lighting these kinds of photographs, which is the trickiest part. But I knew from the start that I wanted to use food because of its beautiful color and texture. What I didn’t realize is that combining elements that are essentially toys and food would give this work a great deal of accessibility as these elements are familiar to just about everyone.
I worked on the images, on and off, for about ten years. I’d say that about 90% or more of photographs in the series have been shot right here in West Seattle, usually using foods sourced from local stores. Say what you will about Seattle weather, but for most of the year we have perfect, even overcast skies to food photography. Almost all of my work has been done with natural light.
In 2011 the images were picked up for syndication in Europe and quickly (and unexpectedly) spread across the world. Fine art galleries started selling photographs that autumn, by which time the digital images had been published in more than 90 countries. And I was approached by a book agent at ICM (which also represents Toni Morrison, Michael Pollan, Cormac McCarthy, among others) in late summer 2011 as well. At that time we shopped around a proposal to all of the big NYC publishers. Without exception we had great feedback. Everyone loved the work. But no one was convinced they could make money on the book. So everyone passed and it was a bit of a roller coaster.
But the work continued to build momentum. By the following summer the fine art photographs were selling very well in Toronto, Monaco, London, Paris, and in Seattle. I was invited to have my first solo show at Winston Wächter Fine Art in New York City’s Chelsea district, considered by many to be the center of the art world. That solo show attracted the attention of the Washington Post, who did a feature story leading up to the show. And the day the show opened I received an e-mail from an editor at Workman Publishing who expressed interest in perhaps doing a book. One of the first things I said to the editor when I called her back was that Workman had passed on the book proposal the previous summer. But actually, Workman had never seen it. Their Artisan imprint (which publishes gorgeous, prestigious food books like Thomas Keller’s “French Laundry” cookbook) had passed. Workman wanted to do it.
Workman loved the catalog but wanted a lot of new images. So I spent the better part of the fall and winter shooting a heap of new work. My concern was that there wouldn’t be enough photographs that my editor would like. But it turned out that they liked so many that a book originally slated to be 150 pages was increased to 250! Work on the book was completed last spring and I’m so happy that it is finally being released. In the meantime, the work has been continuing to exhibit in the fine art world. I’ve just closed my second NYC solo show and I am gearing up for three fine art shows in three countries in October — London opening on October 2nd; exhibiting at Art Toronto, opening on the 25th; next Seattle solo show opening in Seattle on October 29th at Winston Wächter Fine Art in South Lake Union.
Fine art photographs are currently being fabricated in five production houses around the world, but most of the work for the American market is produced right here in Seattle, keeping as much of the economic benefit as possible here at home. In addition, there is a limited edition of Big Appetites note cards that are mostly sold through retail stores around Seattle, including Click! Design That Fits here in West Seattle. I have also been very fortunate to have a steady stream of editorial commissions (like the cover that I shot for Lucky Peach magazine last spring) and have been approached about commercial commissions from a range of advertising and PR companies representing brands like Disney, Johnny Walker Whisky, Paypal, Hall’s cough drops, etc. I’m currently in talks with a European production company looking to turn “Big Appetites” into an animated series.
All of this is very surreal. I always considered myself much more of a writer and never thought I’d have a full-time career as a visual artist. But I’ve just been very lucky in that I did something that I loved, essentially to amuse myself (and my young nieces) and by complete chance it was discovered and embraced by the world. I often think of the expression: Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.
Big Appetites (was) released officially (today … in North America) by Workman Publishing, though I’m told it is already on shelves in bookstores. That release will expand to the rest of the world in October. I’ll have my very first book signing this Thursday, September 12th, at Click! Workman has been phenomenally supportive of the book, ordering 50,000 copies for the first edition. And rather than having it printed in China as so many books are these days, “Big Appetites” has been printed in the United States.
People often ask me which images in the series are my favorite. But without exception I tell them that it is much more interesting for me to go to exhibitions and to see people laughing and connecting with the work. I usually work alone in my studio and never know what will connect with people. So it is the most fun to see the work out in the world and experience how people are reacting to it, especially when I have made presentations to local schoolchildren and to have had a chance to inspire them at a time when visual literacy isn’t the highest educational priority.
(Christopher at Alki Elementary in November 2012; photo by Karen Hinkey)
It’s also interesting to learn where my fine art photographs end up when galleries sell them, especially when collectors are connected to prominent museums. It has been a crazy, wonderful ride.
We first met Christopher in 2007 – after he had started sending us photos, before WSB even became a business. In ensuing years, he has worked with us as a contributing photojournalist, hundreds of photos and some stories; “Big Appetites” is pretty much all-consuming now, but every so often, we get a chance to work with him again, and we are thrilled to be rooting for his success making people smile, and think, with his art. We’ll be stopping by Click! on Thursday night and hope to see you there too.