Carl Warner – Foodscapes

As a creative, my biggest fear is getting old.  Getting old means slowing down. Slowing down means less passion. Less passion means crappy work.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 59 percent of employees in the ad industry are ages 25-44.

Is it true? Do most people in advertising peak at age 25 and are over the hill by age 40? The answer is no.

The secret to extending your life in advertising, or any creative field, is to reinvent yourself.

About 15 years ago, Carl Warner found himself, like a lot of us, in a rut. His once successful career as an advertising photographer started to dwindle and became less in demand.

One day, he found himself staring at mushrooms in the produce section at the local market. That’s when it hit him. He rushed home and created his first landscape photo consisting of mushrooms.

Carl Warner's first foodscape

Carl Warner’s first foodscape made entirely out of portobello mushrooms, rice and beans.

We have all compared broccoli to a tree, at some point in our lives. However, have you ever looked at the texture of salmon and thought it resembles the pattern of a tranquil sea? Carl Warner has. Have you ever looked at a red onion and imagined a hot air balloon? Carl Warner has.

He coined his new style “foodscapes.”

This new style re-launched his career. I’ll let Carl Warner tell the story.

Carl Warner - Foodscapes

Tell me about that point in your life when you felt your work was becoming predictable and you needed to rediscover yourself.

I always had a love of landscape photography. I love Ansel Adams. He was a big influence when I was starting out. I got into the advertising business as a still life photographer.  I had a particular lighting style that I could apply to the most boring of subjects, so that the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

When this particular lighting style became less fashionable, I had to move with the times.  I guess I lost my identity as a stylized creative photographer and became one of the many ‘snappers’ who turned out good quality images that ticked a box but without bringing something fresh and inspiring to the party.

Carl Warner Food Photography Foodscapes

Carl Warner creates crashing waves made out of romaine lettuce, potatoes masquerading as giant rocks and a completely edible sail boat.

The Foodscape work was all about blending my still life work with my love of landscape photography.  In discovering it as my own unique art form, I regained my identity, not just as a photographer, but as an artist.

Tell me about that day in the supermarket when you were staring at those mushrooms and you discovered foodscapes for the first time.

Was it a eureka moment or was it a slow hunch that evolved over time?

It was a “hunch” and I really just stumbled upon it. I could only see the possibilities for one or two images, when I began. I could not see over the “hump.” Once you start thinking in a different way, life and work takes a different direction.

Funny enough, the Foodscape work began a year or two after I became a Christian. Before that, I was a complete atheist. My coming to faith changed the way I looked at the world and I guess that meant that I looked at things like food in a different light. God is in the details rather than the devil. An aspect of implied design, throughout the natural world, where smaller organic material could mimic the larger forms. This was no “eureka moment,” it was just a realization of something bigger at work that helps everything fall into place.

Was it a conscious decision to have a very distinct style? Or did it just happen?

The style is all about composition and lighting – I love both these aspects of image making. Couple that with a good idea and you arrive at a place where people take notice of what you do and are inspired or entertained by it. So I guess it just happened, but once the path was illuminated for me, it was very easy to set off in that direction.

Carl Warner Foodscapes Food Styling Photography

One of Carl Warner’s first foodscapes. The ocean is made of smoked salmon. The ocean rocks are made out of bread. Even the sky is made from the side of a salmon.

What do you think would’ve happened to your career if you would have kept doing the same kind of work?

I wouldn’t have survived in the ad business. You have to reinvent yourself, like Dr Who, in most businesses. This is especially true in media related industries as it constantly demands new, different and fresh approaches. Even now, I cannot rest on my laurels. I must keep moving forward, maintain stimulation and explore new subjects. I get so much out of it, so it would be madness not to do so.

Are the bodyscapes a way for you to reinvent yourself today?

Yes of course.

Although, I am quite well known for my Foodscape work, I am also pigeonholed for it. Which means I have to do something equally good to get out of that pigeon hole – even if it means creating and falling into a new one.

I wish people would just consider me as a creative talent, that can be applied to anything, rather than someone who can only do one specific thing. But in the ad world that requires a lot of trust and confidence. Sadly, that is a commodity that the industry and it’s clients seem very short of.

When it comes down to choosing your next project, how picky are you?

Do clients ask you to mimic similar stuff you’ve already done? Are you willing to go down the same path again or are you always looking for something new?

I don’t mind doing something similar to what I have done before. I’m always glad of the work and consider myself very fortunate to earn a living doing something that is great fun. Sure, it is challenging, taxing and frustrating at times. Every job has it’s own uniqueness which is there to be discovered and enjoyed. As long as I get a kick out of it, I am more than happy to do it. I can create a bit of magic along the way

The only time I will turn away projects is if I don’t believe I can make something work or if the project is a product I consider to be unhealthy or promoting bad eating habits.

Glenfiddish Scotch on the rocks Carl Warner Otherscapes

Scotch on the Rocks – Carl Warner’s “Otherscapes”

When a client approaches you about a project, how much influence do they have creatively or do they let you take the wheel?

I am very fortunate that, generally, I am given a lot of creative freedom as it is something that no one else does. My ideas and way of thinking are what they come to me for. I can tell the client what will work and what will not. I also have the gift of being able to draw and sketch out my ideas, visuals and storyboards. This has proved to be a great asset within the creative process so that clients can be made aware of my vision.

Who are your influences? I’ve read that Dali is an influence. What other work do you admire?

I think that for many people it’s their childhood influences that remain the strongest throughout life – Dali, Roger Dean, prog rock, The Wizard of Oz and everything in between.

I admire anything that is good and that is done well. Craft, creativity and attention to detail is very important in my own work. I enjoy it in these traits and in the work of others, be it in: music, film, painting, typography, animation, design, architecture and gastronomy.

So what’s next?

I just shot a TV commercial for Moe’s Southwest Grill in the U.S. I directed some straight food stuff and hi speed camera work. I am hoping to do some more directing this year. I love working with moving images in both live action and animation. I’m also shooting an Italian palace in Turin. I have a Spaghetti Western scene with Clint wearing a parma ham poncho.

I am playing drums in a few bands and I am taking up painting!

So much to do and so little time to do it!…………..I had better get on.

His story motivated me more than I expected. I hope it does the same for you. You’ll learn that you have no excuse and that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself.

Watch Carl Warner talk about his work on The Lost Lectures. Also, make sure to follow Carl Warner on Facebook.

Carl Warner talks about the making of some of his most famous "Foodscapes."

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