In this interview we are featuring photographer Christopher Boffoli from Seattle, USA. Christopher’s “Disparity” series, images of various food and miniature figures of people, who carrying out everyday activities, has become very popular around the internet.
Q: Hello Christopher, thank you for taking your time for this interview. Besides that you are a photographer, you are also a writer, filmmaker, and artist. We’d like to know more about you. Can you tell us more about yourself?
A: I was born and raised in the Boston area. But I consider Charleston, South Carolina my adopted hometown. I was creative from a young age, but mostly as a writer. So I studied journalism and English in school. After college I worked for more than a decade in the field of Philanthropy. I raised money for elite schools like Dartmouth College and the London School of Economics. My creative skills in writing, photography and graphic design were certainly useful in that career path, but they always came second. It was a rewarding profession but I never really loved it.
Then I experienced a couple of life-changing events. I was a first-hand witness to the events of September 11, 2001, as a resident of lower Manhattan. Three years later, I was nearly killed at high elevation in a mountaineering accident on Washington’s Mt. Rainier. Those experiences were transformative for me. I made a decision to pursue creative work full-time. Since that time I’ve traveled the world, doing editorial photography. And more recently I’ve been focused on my Disparity series.
Q: How did you first get interested in photography? Did you go to a school to learn photography?
A: I’m not a formally trained photographer or visual artist. Like I said, I always felt like I was more of a writer. I was writing down stories almost from the time I knew what words were and how they went together. Photography didn’t come until much later, when I was given a camera as a gift for my 15th birthday. But I’ve always had an interest in visual art. I was always drawing things, often very blueprint-like technical sketches of things. I’ve since wondered if maybe I would have adopted photography earlier if someone had trusted be with a camera at a younger age. In any case, I taught myself photography and picked things up where I could. This consisted of taking many thousands of bad pictures and eventually learning from my mistakes. Some of my first published images were in college newspapers. Now my editorial and fine art images have been published, online and in print, in more than 80 countries around the world. It just reinforces the notion that you should just keep working at something and you’ll eventually get it right.
Q: Is the “Disparity” series – a single project? I know that the phrase attributed to you by many Internet sources, “I’ve always been interested in the discrepancy between the size and scope of comparison between the people and things when I was a child I had my own tiny world, a model train.” doesn’t belong to you. What actually induced to create this series?
A: Yes, that quote is just a result of the Internet having become a big game of telephone, with not enough people doing their own original reporting. I have been interested in the idea of size disparity for a long time. It is a very old dramatic concept, going back to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, as one early example. But it was also extremely common in the television shows and movies I saw as a kid when I was growing up. Movies like Honey I Shrunk the Kids, The Incredible Shrinking Woman, and Innerspace – just to name a few – all featured situations with people out of scale with their environments. I think children in general might more readily identify with this concept as kids live in a world that is out of scale with their bodies. And they play with toys that are even further out of scale. So the inspiration came early; from media, and from playing with meticulously detailed toys and model railroading.
The more contemporary inspiration for this work came after I saw some interesting Chapman Brothers dioramas at the Saatchi Gallery in London in 2002. After that I began to think more about using scale figures in artwork. I also really loved The Travelers, a work by Walter Martin and Paloma Munoz, with tiny figures arranged inside snowglobes, often in very disturbing scenes. I loved the idea of drawing people in with something whimsical and familiar and then giving them something unexpected (and/or disturbing).
My choice of toys and food was calculated in that these components are among the most common elements of just about every culture in the world. No matter what language you speak, your culture or how much money you have, everyone has a comfort and familiarity with these things. Not to mention that food can be very beautiful, with marvelous colors and textures, especially when photographed with macro lenses.
Q: How long did it take to create the “Disparity” series?
A: Well again, going from my time scale, the work began psychologically around 1978. So maybe 28 years from germination to worldwide exposure. I made some of the early test images in or around 2003. The first images were published in 2006 or so. So that’s really when the publication and exposure began. In the time since my work has gained broad exposure, I’ve become aware of some other artists whose work is parallel to mine. Sometimes people might see the other work first before they see mine and assume that my work was inspired by theirs. But other than the inspiration I’ve stated, these ideas are my own. Recognizing how common the elements of the work are, it does not surprise me at all that other artists are exploring the same ideas.
Q: How do you describe your photographic style?
A: I generally don’t. It is not a question I’m asked all that often. And frankly, I find it more limiting than interesting. Why does anyone really need a photographic style? Isn’t that really just something that helps people put photographers into categories? If pressed, I’d say that my photographic style is whatever I’m shooting at any given time. If I’m in Burma, shooting on the street then it is a street/documentary style. If I’m covering a political event or a house on fire while covering the news in Seattle then it is an editorial, news reporting style. When I’m shooting fine art photographs, that’s portraits or macro. You know? It’s whatever style suits the work at hand.
Q: What are your favorite subjects to photograph?
A: I’m not sure this is something that I think about very much either. My focus is on shooting anything and everything that it interesting to me. And the things that I find amazing, beautiful, heartbreaking, disturbing. I wouldn’t limit myself with declaring anything a favorite. Though I will say that some things are harder to shoot than others. As tedious as it can be to be photographing meticulously detailed scale figures on food, at least they stand still and I have complete control over the contents of the frame. When I’m working as a photojournalist it can sometimes be in dangerous or unpleasant conditions and I must work quickly and sensibly to capture rapidly unfolding events.
Q: How do you feel about digital manipulation and to what extent do you use it?
A: I’m not at all averse to digital manipulation. I consider it a tremendous privilege to have at my disposal all of the digital equipment and tools that I do. However, I’d say I’m only adequate with software and I always aim to do it as best as I can in the camera to save time and minimize the work afterwards. It is a careful balance you always want to keep in check.
Q: Where our readers can find more of your work?
A: I’m in the process of building a new website that will do a better job of pulling together all of the disparate parts of my creative output. In the meantime, people can find a good cross section of my work (including newly released images from the Disparity series) here: http://cjboffoli.500px.com/disparity/#/0
If people would like to see the work in person, I’m represented by the following galleries:
USA: Winston Wachter Fine Art (Seattle): www.winstonwachter.com/exhibitions_seattle.php
Canada: Marcia Rafelman Fine Arts (Toronto): www.mrfinearts.com
UK: Flaere Gallery (London): www.flaere.com
Europe: Galerie Carré Doré Monaco (Monaco): www.carredor-monaco.com