Why don’t we just hop on the Chocolate Express straight to Pumpkin Paradise; that soft-spoken gingerbread lady is probably waiting to check us in the Candy Cottage — is what I would have said if you were familiar with the images above. Do bear with me though; the explanations are yet to come. Why? Because Carl Warner. That’s why.
The talented British food photographer has been creating mouth-watering foodscapes for the advertising industry for nearly 14 years; his visual delights appealing to the raw imagination of the young and the call for beauty of the old. Warner entered the advertising world in the mid 80’s as an assistant in photographer David Lowe’s office. No more than a year passed, and Warner relocated; although just next door to Lowe’s, he was now in his own studio. Soon after, he became a successful photographer in the industry and after a decade, he had created an impressive portfolio. In the mid 90’s however, the need for a change arose. And so, with blueberry ink on pineapple paper, a new and thrilling chapter started in Warner’s career: “I began creating the first image Mushroom Savanna back in 1999 and I had no idea it would become such a long-term project, as it seemed to be just a one off image!”
While the beauty of fine eating is increasingly disappearing, Warner was one of the privileged few to find the art potential of foodscapes. “My first image, the one using the mushrooms, sparked the idea. I was walking through a food market and I found these amazing portabella mushrooms and as I held them up to the light, it struck me that they sort of looked like giant trees when viewed from a low angle. Having brought them back to my studio with a few other ingredients, I set up the camera and lights to see if I could create a miniature world on my studio table top, and here we are 14 years later with more than 70 images.”
Ever since that day, Warner has had a very special relationship with markets. When I shared my image of him walking down the vegetable isle and nodding approvingly towards a robust-looking cabbage, he admitted: “My studio in London is indeed close to Borough Market (probably the oldest in London dating back to the Roman times), which is a genuine source of inspiration, as I am constantly on the look to find new and interesting ingredients to work with.”
But the quest for the freshest and most beautiful materials is only the first step. In his air-conditioned studio, the architect reshapes the ingredients into bricks to build his astounding miniature environments. After building the set, the photographer comes to stage and captures everything on film for two or three days, only to let the editor work his magic by retouching and fine tuning for another three days. Not only the walls but also the sunlight and the shadows are being built from scratch in his studio. “As a photographer,” says Warner, “it is a great pleasure to re-create the feeling of natural sunlight using studio lighting, and together with the composition to create a scene that fools the viewer into initially thinking they are actually looking at a real place!” As to the inspiration gathered from the history of art, he goes on to say that most of the “inspiration for the foodscapes comes from classical landscape paintings, using the golden thirds and pathways that lead you into the deep perspectives,” despite the fact that many have compared his work with that of Italian painter Giuseppe Archimboldo.
Bearing a more complex message than that of its unique visual beauty, the Foodscapes have been regarded by many as having a significant role in promoting the benefits of healthy eating. In this regard, Warner says his work is mostly intended as “a celebration of food and ingredients” with the images being created “to inspire people to look at food in a different way.” He adds, “If they are used as vehicles to promote healthy eating then I am delighted, but I cannot hope to make single handed changes in our food culture. This needs to be a team collaboration with chefs and cooks around the world to capitalize upon the opportunity they inspire.”
However aware of the amplitude of such a movement and the great number of forces required for it to be efficient, the artist does have a strong stance on the rituals surrounding the contemporary food culture: “I think that our eating habits are life choices; you can choose to cook fresh food from scratch and make it an enjoyable part of your evening or you can eat a ready meal or take-away and sit in front of the TV. For me it is about cooking a relaxing and pleasurable pursuit that you can have with your partner or your family. Unless we develop a food culture with this in mind, we will be destined to become ever more unhealthy as a society.”
In the advertising industry, Warner has a very distinctive approach to the promotion process. He skilfully paints every product’s qualities and expands them to fully detailed worlds, creating a surreal experience of what it could mean to consume a product for the viewer and potential buyer. This significant part of his work is very well structured. “I work closely with an advertising agency or client to get the essence of their brand together with an idea of their marketing strategy. Then by thinking about the ingredients used in their products and the type of scene or concept that will fit the brief, I draw up sketches of proposed scenes, which I present to both, the client and agency. I usually get to meet the clients face to face and they are always keen to share their ambitions for the projects we work on.”
Having worked with many famous names with strong brand identities across the years, Warner has nonetheless managed to be flexible enough to move from a brand’s specificity to another’s and still maintain his signature style. “I think that the technique and style of my work has a reasonable amount of flexibility which different brands are able to use. But the main reason for its success is that I work internationally so that these projects rarely clash as in the space of a year people outside the industry soon forget seeing a similar idea with another brand. After all, the style may remain the same but the concept is always different and the images can look as diverse as the many different locations and landscapes there are around the world.”
At the end of the day, it can be truthfully said that the artist honoured both, his profession and his passion. Along a flourishing career that expanded over almost three decades, the artist has kept a perfect equilibrium between both his missions, to advertise the brands as well as to bring a smile to the people, balancing the beautiful and the commercial. “I actually think that they are the same thing. Agencies hire me because my work looks beautiful and engages the consumer with imagery that catches their eye because of beauty or captures their imagination because of creativity. And that is the clear objective of my craft.” says Warner passionately.
Image Courtesy: Carl Warner