Photographer Creates Landscapes Good Enough to Eat

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Thu, Oct 6, 2011 2:59 PM EDT

(Photos courtesy of Carl Warner)

By Claudine Zap

For Carl Warner, it all started with a portabella mushroom. The London-based advertising photographer had gone to the produce market looking for objects to shoot in a still life. But the fungus caught his eye for another reason. "I thought it looked like a tree on an African savanna," he recalled recently, from his home in England. So the ad man took home the 'shroom and shot it the way he saw it.

That first creation, "Mushroom Savanna," made 12 years ago, was the beginning of a food odyssey that has evolved into a complex, imaginary world where ordinary foods like broccoli, parmesan cheese, and kale are transformed into eye-popping scenes of the city of London, a Tuscan village, or a craggy American landscape. But look closely: Everything in the photos is made from food.

The efforts have become a book, "Carl Warner's Food Landscapes", and a series of photographs of the food landscapes can be see see in the photo gallery above.

Over the years, the foodie said that the work has evolved into a more sophisticated process that involves a model-maker, a food stylist, and sometimes a team of assistants to create one foodscape.

The London skyline sure wasn't built in a day: The buildings, made from elements like string beans and asparagus, were made fresh and photographed as they were constructed: held together by superglue and pins. The entire photograph was shot over a series of five days. By day five, the Parliament building was withered.

This isn't just a labor of love: Food companies like Nestle and Unilever hire the edible artist to create campaigns. The Tuscan village was commissioned by an Italian food company. Their one constraint: Everything in the photos had to be ingredients in their pasta sauce.

The elements that make up the portrait usually relate with a wink to the theme of the picture. "Cereal Dust Bowl", an iconic vision of the American West, includes Slim Jims for telephone poles, an Airstream trailer made from crusty white bread, and a dusty ground cover of oats and cereal flakes. The sky is a rib-eye steak.

Warner says he's learned some tricks of the food photography trade over the years. Curly kale makes a robust forest canopy. But coriander, a favorite herb of the photog (who laments he is losing his sense of smell), is "troublesome" because it wilts quickly under the hot lights.

The Liverpool-born author has turned his attention to a children's foodscape book and even an animated TV show that he hopes will "do for food education what 'Sesame Street' has done for numeracy and literacy."

The 48-year-old harbors dreams of doing more foodscapes on a grand scale. One vision: " I'd love to make Venice out of pasta -- the Rialto bridge, the gondolas, all the wonderful architecture." He added, "The more I've done, the more I realize there are so many to do. It's a life work. There are so many places that have yet to be made out of food."