Food as art: Fun photos bring nature's bounty to life

(CBS News) Seattle-based photographer Christopher Boffoli earned a James Beard award nomination in 2012 for a photograph in a collection called "Big Appetites." The series takes an up close look at the beauty of the world's bounty.

He takes real food and turns it into fine art. With the help of tiny figurines, Boffoli tells stories about the things we love to eat.

"The elements of this are essentially toys and food. Those components are two of the most common things in just about every culture in the world," said Boffoli. "So whether you eat with a fork, or chop sticks or your fingers, you don't have to be American, you don't have to speak English to get this."

Boffoli's work has been seen in about 100 countries. The most recent collection in his "Big Appetites Series" has been on display in New York.

The photographs create savory worlds of food, like ice fishing on a frosty bagel with cream cheese, a lumberjack chopping scallions or a construction site of s'mores.

"I wanted the food to be real and edible. There's a lot of cheating in commercial food photography where things like white glues stands in for milk, and glass ice cubes stand in for real ice," he said. "I figured that I would want to work with what's fresh, what's in season. So I'll generally just go to the farmers market and see what looks good to me. I'll bring the food back and start formulating ideas about how to use it."

Boffoli's inspiration came from a childhood of watching movies like "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" and "The Incredible Shrinking Woman" -- a modern concept he says that dates back to "Gulliver's Travels" in the 18th century.

"It's not enough to take a figure and put it on a cupcake and call it a fine art image. You have to really think about the context. I like to give the figures a destiny, treat them like characters," he said.

Some say Boffoli's photography career began by accident. A severe ankle injury left him immobile on Mount Rainier in freezing temperatures. He nearly died waiting hours for rangers to climb by foot to rescue him. Boffoli left his job in philanthropy, and began experimenting with big appetites. Years later an editor in London discovered his work.

Boffoli's photographs are now part of a new book, "Big Appetites: Tiny People in a World of Big Food." The pictures all come with captions, which Boffoli writes himself, to add humor, and social commentary on the kinds of foods we eat, and how we consume them.

"There's this strange dichotomy between we have in America. This great, huge bounty to choose from and then we don't always take advantage of that," he said.