The Foodscapes of Carl Warner

24 Oct 2013 09.51 am by Renny Wijeyamohan

Carl Warner’s Foodscapes are a visual feast of texture, colour and light. Created entirely from real fresh produce like fruits, vegetables, herbs, bread and pasta and then painstakingly photographed – Warner’s Foodscapes have captured the imagination of the advertising and publishing world alike. Collected in two books – “Carl Warner’s Foodscapes” and “A World of Food” the images reinvent the traditional landscape photograph with an injection of earthiness, colour and vitality.


The Work

Warner describes his work as a “pleasant deception” – a mirror image of famous world landmarks and pastoral scenes created with unconventional materials. A bean and cucumber boat floats on a rocky lush lettuce sea in “Lettuce Seascape”. A juicy, golden pineapple Great Wall trails off into the distance in “Great Wall of Pineapple replete with an onion and capsicum rickshaw and a mushroom driver. A chubby onion tops the spires of the Taj Mahal in “The Onion Taj Mahal” accompanied by a fresh parsley garden and spiced walkway. 


Surprise is the key word here – as viewers slowly recognise vegetable by vegetable the composition of one of Warner’s pieces. Warner places the fascination with is work down to his use of food, “it is an organic material that has such amazing similarities to the larger aspects of the natural world.” Citing influences as diverse as Salvador Dali, Roger Dean and Patrick Woodroffe, Warner channels the fantastical. And the results are surprising indeed.


The Process

“I tend to draw a very conventional landscape using classic compositional techniques” says Warner, “as I need to fool the viewer into thinking it is a real scene at first glance, it is the realisation that the scene is in fact made of food that brings a smile that brings a smile to the viewer, and for me that’s the best part”.


Assisted by a model maker and a “food stylist” (I didn’t know there was such a thing) Warner creates his works layer by layer. Beginning with the hardy base layers – he prefers kale for its resilience under the hot photographic lighting – and ending with the most perishable – parsley, apparently, only lasts a few minutes.


The Concept

The universal “relatability” of food is a key driver of the success of the Foodscapes. “I think that food is one of the most important aspects to our lives, our societies and our cultures,” Warner says, “To celebrate it in art is a celebration of the very thing that sustains us. A healthy food culture is something that can bring families and communities together by giving us a sense of oneness. The simple pleasures of growing food, cooking a meal and sharing with friends is what unites us in our humanity. To celebrate this through landscapes made from the food we eat is for me a simple connection of natures beauty from natures bounty.”


Left over food from shoots is taken home by team members or, if there are serious leftovers, donated to a local homeless shelter. What’s on Carl Warner’s plate for the future? An animated Foodscape-inspired TV series showing kids the origins of food and promoting healthy eating. Stay tuned.


The Portrayal of Food

Warner’s use of fruits and vegetables in his images is sometimes hard to spot. While the capsicums (peppers), onions and tomatoes are easy distinguished. Kale, parsley and lettuce are more difficult to discern from the trees, shrubs and oceans they represent. Part of this challenge to the viewer – and game of “guess what” – lies in Warner’s manipulation of light. His background in photography and painstaking set building techniques means that emphasis can be placed on different compositional elements to “fake” an effect. In this way, lettuce resting on potatoes in Lettuce Seascape looks exactly like breakers tumbling against a rocky island in a rough ocean swell. While on close inspection most fruits and vegetables are identifiable, when viewed as a whole, the “deception” of the foodscape takes charge – transporting the viewer to a rough ocean, a Mexican pyramid or an Indian monument. The food appears overly lush and shiny – spotlighted to create a visual texture and mimic an architectural effect. In his Foodscapes, Warner is not trying to present a scientific assessment of food, like Arcimboldo, instead he is trying to use photographic deception to create the unreal from the real. 


Carl Warner  

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