The Making of Candied Earth




When the world was created, Slayer was playing.In his studio in northern New Jersey,Massimo Gammacurta, a photographer and candy artist from Rome, listened to hardcore music and worked over pots of boiling liquids at a small stove in his basement studio. He was working on the lollipop globe that would grace Sunday’scover of The New York Times Magazine.“It looks like I’m running a meth lab,” he said, “but I would go broke if I were making drugs — it takes me forever to make a batch.”Each fall, The Times Magazine runs anannual food and drink issue. Last year the editors focused on the art of the dinnerparty, and previous editions have looked at corporate agriculture or bizarre, surreal recipes from Betty Crocker’s midcentury recipe library. The aim is to look at food in the context of our culture. This year, the theme was candy.“Candy seems like the most trivial of all food stuffs, and of course from a nutritional standpoint it is,” said Jake Silverstein, the magazine’s editor in chief. “But if what you’re interested in is not protein but individual and cultural psychology, it can be a powerful (and fun) lens through which to examine the world’s cultures.”Mr. Gammacurta, 50, made the lollipop globe with a candy-making technique he’s perfected over the last 11 years. He has also collaborated on a lollipop-basketball design for Nike Graphic Studio and made lollipop letters for the Creative Review’s February 2015 cover article on how creativity influences what we eat.He began experimenting with photography at a young age; he had his first show in Italy when he was 14. He moved to New York 18 years ago to shoot still-lifes and conceptual photography for magazines and high-end fashion clients like Dolce and Gabbana, but just shooting beautiful objects wasn’t enough.The idea to make candy and photograph it first came to him in 2007. Mr. Gammacurta was drawn to the oversaturated colors you see when you light and photograph a lollipop: It’s semitransparent, and he rarely uses solid colors like black or white, which don’t let light through.He makes all of his own props in both hisadvertising photography and his personalart. Plus: “I’m Italian, so, you know, I cancook,” he said. Candy-making, however,challenged his skills in the kitchen. Foodought to taste good, not necessarily lookgood, in his opinion: The lollipops are a medium, not a meal.He tried multiple recipes before finding his current mix of sugar, corn syrup, water and food coloring. “As soon as I dropped a color into this,” Mr. Gammacurta said,referring to the concoction, “I knew I’d made the right thing. The heat, the color —it was like it was exploding.”It then took years to perfect the casting technique. His first molds melted — the liquid sugar mixture seethed at over 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Some molds need a full day to cure and be ready for use, while others only take an hour. The candy is much thicker than working with resin, he said, and it hardens quickly, leaving him a short window in which to sculpt or work with it. He also has to control the humidity in the room, or he’ll end up with a sticky mess. The hardest color to make, he said,is purple, and he is constantly having to scrub the dyes off his fingers. Now Mr. Gammacurta makes molds out of silicone poured into wood or Styrofoam casts. After the lollipop cools, he often adds drips and flourishes that harden in loops and patterns on the confection. Even so, it can take many attempts to get a finished result he’s happy with. “I really don’t like to Photoshop it,” Mr. Gammacurta said,“and so I try to make it look as close as I want it to look on its own — a lot of texture,a lot of bubbles, a lot of imperfections. It takes a full day sometimes.”For the candy on the cover, Mr. Gammacurta used a silicon mold to cast a half dome and flat version, admitting that it took a few tries to make the world just right.In the end, The Magazine went with the flat Earth pop because of the way the light filtered through, said Gail Bichler, The Magazine’s design director. “It felt a little more luminous,” she said, “and delicious.”