'Food Landscapes': Carl Warner's Miniature, Hand-Crafted Vignettes

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British photographic artist Carl Warner, whom you might recall as one of our favorite architects of edible landscapes, is a master of food and form, crafting astounding fantasy food landscapes that are part Ansel Adams, part Anthony Bourdain, part your childhood daydreams from the counter of your grandmother's kitchen. These miniature vignettes are painstakingly hand-crafted with only minimal Photoshop involvement and exude a kind of vibrant whimsy that stands in stark contrast with the mundane, ordinary ingredients Warner uses. Food Landscapes collects Warner's most magnificent work alongside detailed production notes and ingredient lists for each scene.

Making landscapes out of food seems like a rather unusual thing to do for a living, and people often ask, 'What made you start doing this?' It seems that the burning heart of this question is really the curiosity about what it is that motivates any human being to do something out of the ordinary, and my short answer to this is usually a simple, because I had the idea and I chose to do something about it. --Carl Warner

Salmon Sea

Smoked salmon sea, dark soda bread rocks, sugar and pinto beans sand and pebbles, foreground rocks from new potatoes and parsley; pea pod and bean sprout boat, side of salmon sky

Coconut Haystacks

Parsley trees with horseradish trunks, red cabbage sky, toasted almonds as distant haystacks, and loaves of bread for hills

Chinese Junk

The roster of ingredients includes dried lotus leaves for snails, noodles for the wood floor, physalis lanterns, and the obscure wild green yamakurage for the rope.

Warner traces the kernel of his inspiration to the work of Tessa Traeger, a food photographer who in the early 1990s published A Visual Feast, a collection of painterly, two-dimensional pictures composed using food. Warner wondered whether he could take this a step further and create three-dimensional vignettes with food. Then, one day, as he was strolling through the fruit and vegetable market, he noticed the curving trunks and parasol canopies of portobello mushrooms were reminiscent of trees in the African savannah. He quickly grabbed the mushrooms and some grains, and headed back to his studio to create a tabletop scene that would photograph like a larger landscape. The rest was creative history.

Of his start with photography, Warner recounts:

For me, drawing and music were a means of escape into other worlds and alternate realities, and this provided the means to stimulate and exercise the muscles of my imagination. This went on for years, until I discovered photography. I found that I could photograph the real world but make it surreal by the techniques and the processes I was able to use in the camera and in the darkroom. I soon realized that this was a lot quicker than drawing, and I was able to develop ideas and concepts with more ease.... At the same time, album cover art was in its heyday, and graphic designers such as Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis were creating amazing surreal images for bands like Pink Floyd. I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life.

Celery Rain Forest

Canope made of okra with dried chili oarsman, tiny mushroom hat and a cardamom pod; path: pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and lentils

Cart & Balloons

Balloons made of red onion, apple, garlic bulb and other fruits; balloon baskets: nuts; hills and fields: bread, cucumber, string beans, green beans, corn, asparagus

Broccoli Forest

Broccoli trees, chopped parsley ground, fresh herb plants, small foreground rocks from Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes, cumin, turmeric and fennel seed pathway, crusty bread rocks, sugar waterfall, cauliflower clouds

London Skyline

Riverbank walls: panini; lamppost: mackerel, asparagus, onion, vanilla pods; London Eye: green beans; courgette, leek, lemon, rhubarb supports; The Dome: green melon.

A pinnacle of finding magic in the mundane, Food Landscapes is an absolute treat and a living manifesto for the power of truly running with the seemingly crazy creative ideas that take hold of your imagination.

Images: Carl Warner/Abrams Books.

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This post also appears on Brain Pickings, an Atlantic partner site.

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Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings. She writes for Wired UK and GOOD, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.

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