Big Appetites: Tiny People in a World Of Big Food is a miniature masterpiece of photographic humor.
The inspiration of Seattle lensman and writer Christopher Boffoli, Big Appetites depicts dioramas of half-inch figurines and food. All kinds of food. Food that surrounds, engulfs, towers over the puny multitude grappling with their digestible environment.
“Pistachio Jackhammer” gives a sense of the scale:
Put it all together and you get still-life cartoons: scrumptious one-frame wonders with wry captions and a heaping helping of Gary Larson.
“With his budget exhausted, Dr. Leaky accepted that his quest to find the world’s last watermelon seed was ultimately unsuccessful.”
The concept and text seem straight out of The Far Side. But Boffoli reifies these Larsoneque visions edibly…and quickly, before the ice cream melts and the souffle collapses.
Organized like a cookbook, with sections for breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, drinks and dessert, Big Appetites weighs in at 249 pages measuring 5.5” x 8”. Boffoli serves up food preparation, often imagined as construction or demolition, as a major theme.
A work crew repairs a pipeline of cannoli. A “mustard technician” dresses a hot dog. Marshmallow bricklayers quarrel over the repointing of a stack of s’mores. Two lumberjacks saw their way through a string bean. (You can count the rings.)
The book bulges with nifty sight gags like these. Consistently well-written captions illuminate exhibits as remarkable for their conceptual ingenuity as for their meticulous arrangements. For all this it’s well worth skipping a meal. Or two.
Don’t close the book yet. Look again, and the expert photography yields further rewards.
Take Boffoli’s manipulation of the depth of field, as in “Pistachio Jackhammer” above. The blurred foreground and background give the illusion of a much larger space than the nuts could possibly occupy. Boffoli also uses this trick when he wants to direct the eye to a certain part of the frame. (I can’t tell whether this particular depth of field effect is optical or digital. It doesn’t matter.)
Other times everything’s in focus, as in “Olive Custom Tires:”
Not only does this happen to be a clever use for a sliced olive, it’s a nicely composed shot. The toy car at bottom left follows the same angle pointed by the tipped can at top right. The ripe, unblemished olives spill out in a sympathetic pattern. It looks casual, but hours of deliberation likely went into the placement of each olive. I imagine Boffoli and these olives as akin to Ansel Adams at Yosemite, fussing for weeks, waiting for just the right moment to click the shutter.
Something like that.
Usually the figurines, not the food items, stand as the visual subject. Nevertheless, the punchlines often lie in the food, as in “Ceded Dreams.” In Big Appetites, the eats generally upstage the people—the whole point. How refreshing to see single-frame cartoons done this way…and interesting to find humans portrayed so humbly, as Lilliputian underdogs in an overbearing world of chow.
In fact, it’s enough to make you look for the moral to the story.
Does Boffoli suggest that we “big people” seem somehow dwarfed by our own cuisine?
Is our actual food-world way out of proportion? Food dominates the tiny people. Do we really master the stuff we absolutely have to scarf three times a day?
Metaphysical thoughts. These photographs certainly reward scrutiny. You may find yourself pondering them at length, even when you’re not hungry.
Still, there’s always room for criticism.
Apart from the fact that the oblique captions derive strongly from Larson, a few of the images have minor issues. Not all photos reproduce well at 5.5” x 8”. The tiny people in a couple of “wide angle shots” appear very tiny indeed: they look optically incorrectly sized, like aggressive shrinks of their originals. Worse, most of the pics seem cropped. Severely. But those drawbacks come with this compact paperback edition.
On the upside, it’s affordable.
A final word about those marshmallow bricklayers. Here’s the caption; you imagine the image:
“Differences of opinion about the placement of ingredients would occasionally devolve into turf battles between the chocolate and marshmallow crews.”
Have a look at this astounding work of humor and see how Boffoli’s vision compares.
Will George blogs at HumorParasite.com.