More than 2,000 of you answered the call to share your beautiful pictures of imperfect food that might otherwise be thrown away in the Your Shot #UglyFoodIsBeautiful challenge. I worked with photographer Becky Harlan, a National Geographic producer and frequent contributor to The Plate, to narrow the entries down to ten winners, which was an incredibly difficult task. We were both struck by the variety in the submissions, from whimsical poses to sexy portraits. Thanks to everyone who entered for making us see food in a new way. Here’s what we picked and why.
Photograph by Berrak E. Lajoie, National Geographic Your Shot
April: The photographer named this one “We Got the Beet,” and growing up on The Go-Go’s, I couldn’t resist it. The hairstyles are pretty spot-on, but if Belinda Carlisle had worn glasses, she might have seen that you can only ride on the 80s for so long.
Becky: This is actually one of my favorite submissions too. Who knew ugly root vegetables could have so much personality? (Are their eyes made of olives!?) The photographer didn’t just have a funny idea, she added pearls to it.
Photograph by Rajesh Pamnani, National Geographic Your Shot
Becky: There were a lot of beautiful renditions of produce submitted to this challenge, but there were very few photographs of captured moments that fulfilled the call conceptually and aesthetically. This man sorting through blemished fruit at Kothapet Fruit Market in India did that. I love that he is swimming in a sea of melons, with one on each shoulder—like swim floaties in a pool. Filling the frame with fruit and getting a high vantage point were key to the success of this photo.
April: Actually, a farmers once told me that the best melons are the ones that have a little yellow and are flat on one side where they sat on the ground. If they were too perfect, they probably weren’t grown in a field. I like the motion in this picture. The stripes are angled every which way, highlighting the challenge of the man’s task.
Photograph by Veronika K Ko, National Geographic Your Shot
April: Citrus rescued from a dumpster was the artist’s inspiration. I love how the water drops add the suggestion of freshness, but when you look closer, you see the green fuzzy mold.
Becky: She’s a brave woman. These are pretty moldy. My favorite thing about this photo is the complimentary color combination. The background is somewhere between purple and blue, and that just gets the orange and yellow citrus poppin’. Also, I just noticed the butterfly in the lower right hand corner. That can’t be real, right?
Photograph by Veronika K Ko, National Geographic Your Shot
Becky: I also loved these moldy oranges. (Where else would you ever hear that sentence?) But for me, the closer crop was more mysterious. It’s so abstract that it took me a second to figure out what was going on, and I like that in an image.
April: I liked this alien-looking shot, but I prefer to keep mold at a distance.
Photograph by Hiro Kurashina, National Geographic Your Shot
April: I love the detail in the “beak” of this exquisitely rotting bitter melon stem, and the pale purple background behind it. Whether bird or vegetable, I want to slice it and stuff it.
Becky: What in the world is a bitter melon? April, if you cook it, I’ll eat it.
Photograph by Sarah Phillips, National Geographic Your Shot
Becky: Under the art direction of Sarah Phillips, these so-called “ugly radishes” look like the belong on the wall at the Museum of Modern art to me. Sliced, diced, and expertly arranged, her ugly food collages perfectly play with shape, color, and design,
April: I’m not sure how damaged the radishes were to begin with, because they look so good sliced. I can’t help but think this creepy-cool photo looks like the underside of an octopus’ tentacle, pressed up against aquarium glass.
Photograph Davide Oldani, National Geographic Your Shot
April: OK, I know Becky’s going to say this is overexposed, but I really like the flower contrasted with rotting fruits, and I never knew how ugly walnuts were close-up. Good thing they are delicious.
Becky: You know me so well. The light is a little harsh, but I am pretty interested in the textures here. Get a load of that leathery fruit skin and that wrinkly walnut. They’re weirdly flesh-like.
Photograph by Heather Levingstone, National Geographic Your Shot
Becky: Is this dragon skin? Cracked leather? Nope, it’s a turnip. “I feel turnips don’t get enough attention,” says photographer Heather Levingstone. She’s right. What better way to pay attention than a photography study. She shows us the rich intricacies of turnip skin, and makes us stop and marvel.
April: I would never have pegged this for a turnip, but the close-up is so mesmerizing, I can’t look away.
Photograph by Susanne M., National Geographic Your Shot
April: Blueberries, peas and old, wrinkly tomatoes were placed atop a print and rephotographed to make this shot. As another commenter said, it could be in Vogue. I hope the artist ate the produce afterwards, or at least made a beauty mask.
Becky: What I want to know is, if she is really wearing the face mask or if it’s some kind of blueberry compote added to the print. I like that I can’t tell. Either way, she kind of looks like a fusion of religious iconography and old Hollywood.
Photograph by Xavier Garcia, National Geographic Your Shot
Becky: I know what you’re thinking. “Becky, this is a family site!” But this image is totally safe for work—it’s not a nude, it’s a green bell pepper! And this photo is actually paying homage to a classic. Edward Weston was one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, and his sensual bell pepper is classic fodder for Photography 101.
April: Nothing wrong with a little high art in the morning.
For more on food waste and how ugly fruits and vegetables can help save the planet, check out this month’s issue of National Geographic magazine.