Postcards from the veg: Carl Warner's food landscapes aren't just beautiful, they're downright delicious
If Carl Warner's photography looks good enough to eat, that's because it is. His landscape portraits are created entirely out of food. Trees are made from broccoli, the clouds are cauliflower and mountains are formed from piles of mashed potato. The result is a body of work that is irreverent, whimsical and fun. Warner created his first "foodscape" in 1999, after a trip to the market left him thinking how much Portobello mushrooms looked like trees. That led to Mushroom Savanna, which re-imagined the fungi as part of an African landscape.
There is a long tradition of food art, dating back to the 16th century and the work of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who painted portraits in which the features were comprised of food. Of course, Warner's is a much more sophisticated operation, one that requires a studio and a team of helpers, including food stylists and model-makers. Each landscape is built on a table in the studio and "Photoshop and post-production techniques are only used to embellish and enhance rather than to actually compose", Warner says.
The key to a good foodscape is to play on the familiar, he says. "I often use quite classic compositions in my work because I want people to be comfortable with what they're looking at," Warner says. "If people see something that reminds them of a painting or a postcard then that's good because it deceives them all the more; they don't realise it's made of food until they get up close. If I did contemporary-looking landscapes with food, it would be too abstract and people wouldn't get it. It's important that it's something they feel they've seen before." Cabbage Sea, a seascape featuring a small boat in trouble on tempestuous waters (made of red cabbage and radicchio), is reminiscent of classic scenes in marine art.
His admiration for other photographers' work, including Tessa Traeger's A Visual Feast and Ansel Adams, also creeps into his own. Broccoli Forest was directly inspired by one of Adams' black and white photographs of the Yosemite Valley in California. There are also nods to film and literature in Warner's pictures; a spooky image of giant garlic bulbs is called Garlicshire, named after J R R Tolkien's The Shire.
But working with fresh produce is not without its difficulties and Warner's most challenging piece to date has been one of the London skyline, which took five days to create and had to be shot in sections. "It takes a whole day just to do the Houses of Parliament," he says. "So by the time you build the rest of it, four days later, the Houses have completely wilted."
See Carl's work, including his new piece 'Pumpkinland', at the Royal Horticultural Society London Autumn Harvest Show. 4-5 October, RHS Horticultural Halls. To order tickets call 0845 612 1253 or visit www.rhs.org.uk/londonshows
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