October 29, 2020

Turning Bodies Into Wonderlands — Because That’s What They Are

Carl Warner can make fantastic landscapes using just about anything: office supplies, nuts and bolts, even clothing.

He might best be known, though, for his “Foodscapes,” an idea that came to him in a food market at a time when his career as an advertising photographer was stagnating. The British still life photographer has a knack for making coconuts look like haystacks; ribeye beef joints, like rock outcrops; and potatoes and soda bread, boulders. He even sculpted a London Skyline with a Parliament of green beans and a rhubarb-spoked London Eye.

Warner, however, has since moved on from food to another medium: the human body. “I’ve always been fascinated by the form and structure of the human body, so this was an experiment to see if I could create landscapes that would be as equally deceiving as the Foodscape work,” says the photographer.

Each landscape in the new series appears to include several bodies, and yet actually is created from photographs of a single person.

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# Valley of the reclining Woman

Image credits: Carl Warner

Lately, Warner is in the habit of making “Bodyscapes” after finding inspiration in the scenes of naked bodies in the dusty, rocky terrain of Michelangelo Antonioni’s film, Zabriskie Point. “I was fascinated by the relationship between body and landscape, and I have always been looking at my own body in terms of its form as something structural and sculptural,” Warner said via email.

# Desert of Sleeping Men

Image credits: Carl Warner

Compared to food, Warner said, the human body is more limited in the types of angles and shapes it can make. “It is less versatile, but it is often the case that having some restriction pushes you harder creatively, which makes it all a worthwhile challenge,” Warner said.

In the images featuring a single shot of a torso or back, only a small amount of digital manipulation—to add the sky—is required. For the shots using multiple body parts, however, the process is more complicated. Mostly it involves stitching together many photos of the same subject to create a scene.

“I know people would love these to be made with many different bodies, but doing this would mean having different skin tones, which would lose the sense of continuity within the landscape. I also like the fact that it is all made from one individual, as it offers an aspect of alternative portraiture and becomes a more intimate connection with the subject,” Warner said.

# Fingers Cave

Image credits: Carl Warner

The texture of his models’ skin and the shapes that they can make—a bent knee or elbow, an arched back and a flexed abdomen, for instance—give Warner the elements he needs to piece together a barren desert or rocky Moab-like setting. He sketches out a composition before each photo shoot, but inevitably, during the shoot, he sees other poses, which he incorporates into a new drawing. He shoots these unexpected elements to fit his new vision, often using both tungsten and flash lighting equipment to highlight the contours. “I try to re-create the feeling of natural sunlight in the studio, which enhances the sense of realism within the landscape,” says Warner.

# Shin Knee Valley

Image credits: Carl Warner

In Photoshop, Warner pieces together the models’ limbs and contortions into finished landscapes. The photographer gives each scene a clever name: Valley of the Reclining WomanPectoral DunesElbow Point, and The Cave of Abdo-men.

# Cut Throat Valley

Image credits: Carl Warner

# The Cave of Abdo-men

Image credits: Carl Warner

Unlike his “Foodscapes,” which require the help of a food stylist and several days to build, Warner said “Bodyscapes” require little preparation. All Warner and his assistant do ahead of time is ensuring that there are no clothing marks on the body and that the skin is hydrated.

“I usually have some sketches of what I would like to achieve, but they don’t always work out as I imagine them to, and often there are shapes and forms which I see that inspire new designs of a scene as we work,” Warner said. “I can build up a foreground, midground, and background quite quickly, but I like the fact that there is a certain amount of unpredictability within the image-making process.”

Warner’s subjects are friends and models. Since the series has become popular, Warner said he has frequently received unsolicited offers from people wanting to pose for him. “But I would really like to move the work forward by photographing well-known people whose bodies have carried them through their personal journeys,” he said.

# Elbow Point

Image credits: Carl Warner

# Shoulder Hill Valley

Image credits: Carl Warner

# The Sleeper

Image credits: Carl Warner

# Headless Horizon

Image credits: Carl Warner

# Twin Peaks

Image credits: Carl Warner

# Pectoral Dunes

Image credits: Carl Warner

# Desert of Backs

Image credits: Carl Warner

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