Chewing the scenery

British photographer focuses on landscapes — only the mountains are mortadella and the trees are broccoli

By Devra First
Globe Staff / November 3, 2010

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Q. Your new book, “Carl Warner’s Food Landscapes,’’ is a collection of your photographs, many commissioned by ad agencies and food companies. How did you start creating these scenes of food?

A. I’ve been a photographer in advertising for 25 years now. I did the first foodscape 10 years ago. I went to the marketplace looking for something to photograph, really. When you work in advertising on the creative end, you need to come up with new ideas and creative ways of looking at things. I saw these beautiful mushrooms and thought, These look like trees. It stemmed from there.

Q. How do you put the scenes together?

A. People often think it’s CGI [computer-generated imagery], but it’s not. It’s real food, real sets, built in studio and lit. The simpler ones are done in a day. Some more complex ones take four days to build and shoot. Sometimes you have to shoot things in layers because you’re working with fresh ingredients. Parsley and herbs will wilt very quickly. There might be 30 people in the studio working at once. With fish, we have to do it one day, with a lot of hands on deck. It’s very smelly.

Q. So working doesn’t make you hungry.

A. I tend to look at food as a substance, as material, like a painter would look at paint. I see it as something I’m constructing a landscape with. Some people say, “I get hungry looking at your pictures,’’ and I say, “Really? I don’t get that at all.’’ It’s two very different ways of looking at food.

Q. What inspires you?

A. Traveling, cinema, music — all sorts of things. I’ve traveled extensively. I’m influenced by early films like “The Wizard of Oz.’’ A lot of [the foodscapes] echo landscape or scenery in the film. [The photo] “Broccoli Forest’’ has a turmeric road, like the Yellow Brick Road. I’m greatly influenced by Ansel Adams. It’s a mix of things from childhood and life. I make these scenes from memory and imagination.

Q. Are you trying to make a statement about art, or food, or both — or neither?

A. I think it’s popular art. I have a love-hate relationship with the art world. I find it’s very manufactured. Art is so linked to investment. It outperforms any other commodity. I would rather have 100 people buy a print at 100 pounds than one person buying it for 10,000 pounds. I think art should be enjoyed and shouldn’t be that expensive.

Q. What’s next?

A. I’ve had wonderful response from people of all ages, demographics, and nationalities. The greater concern now is to use it as a vehicle to do some good in the world. Because it’s enjoyed by so many people, including children, I’m looking to do a TV series following in the steps of Jamie Oliver’s initiative to get kids to eat more healthily. It will be my food world, with characters traveling through and learning about food. Society can better itself through healthier eating. Children are more energetic and have better learning abilities. There’s a sense of community that comes out of food. If families buy ingredients and sit and make a meal together, it improves family life, it improves the wider community. It’s a very big, powerful, simple thing, food, yet it affects everything.

Interview was condensed and edited.

Devra First can be reached at