Sarah Phillips: "I was always intrigued about mixing and matching patterns and designs."

Apr 26, 2018 by Lisa Scarpa


Who is Sarah Phillips? She is a Honorary PH.D graduate, CEO/Founder of Ugly Produce Is Beautiful and a National Geographic Award Winning photographer. She is a 2 time author and major social media influencer! Being one of the first to take hold of the power house influencing media of Instagram, she created the account @food and today has 500,000+ followers.

With such a widely followed platform and passion for food, she made it her goal to create awareness about an often forgotten and little talked about subject. Ugly Produce Is Beautiful has become a lifelong project about the waste that goes into 'picking' what fruits and vegetables are sold according to their aesthetics. Each year, two billion kilos of products in the U.S. are left to rot on dump sites because they are rejected as they seem to be "imperfect" or "deformed" although their quality and freshness are perfect. However, they are deemed "ugly"! This is how @UglyProduceIsBeautiful was created. We gained quite the interest in the subject, since she has also grown a large following on her awareness page. She assembles these "ugly" produce items into creative patterns and photographs them to show how beautiful they really are. We therefore had some questions for Sarah Phillips! 


What inspired you to start photography?

Always been creative. Won awards for previous artwork. Older brother, Stephen Shames is an award winning photojournalist, so hung out with him and knew the medium very well. I picked up a camera only 3 years ago when I turned 61, when I was given one by Canon Camera in a social media photo Instagram post I was doing for them. Afterwards, Canon licensed one of my photos for their advertising campaign. Previous to that, I was using my iPhone camera for Instagram campaigns starting in 2012, and they liked what I did.

"While using the iPhone, I immediately won a National Geographic photo award - I was one of 10 that won out of 2,000 international entries."


What influences your creativity behind the patterns of the fruits and vegetables?

Nature always inspires me. My relatives started Louis Boston in Boston, Massachusetts on my maternal side, which imported Italian fabrics in the 1930s. My relatives and its buyers had a knack for finding young designers, such as Giorgio Armani, before they became household names. The longtime and late owner, my relative, Murray Pearlstein, hired the now famous designer Joseph Abboud as a salesman when he was 18. We always played with fabrics and interesting fabric patterns from the store.

My mother and Grandmother wore clothes from Pucci early on before he became famous. I remember loving his fabrics and meeting him at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, Calif. I loved his eclectic patterns and colors. We also collected Malibu Blue Tiles in Los Angeles, or Hispano Moresque Tile, and contemporary Japanese woodblock prints with bold patterns that my mother collected.

"I was always intrigued about mixing and matching patterns and designs. "

We frequented museums, where I took a number of silversmithing classes, such as in Mexico, throughout my lifetime. When I was in high school, I apprenticed to Lawrence Saufkie, who with his wife, Griselda Saufkie were important to the growth of Hopi American Indian Overlay jewelry, with its bold pattern designs. Our family was also friends with Charles Loloma, the father of contemporary American Indian jewelry with his colorful mix of stones and even wood in a colorful mix of patterns.

My inspiration has also come from Henri Matisse, who helped to define and influence radical contemporary art in the 20th century. I have always loved his lively color and pattern mix, and once painted a replica whole mural of his in my mother’s kitchen when I was 15 years old. My mother also had an eclectic design style, as do I and I alway love to mix and match colors, styles, designs, and patterns. My interior design style is always an eclectic mix of styles and herald from places around the world, as are my food recipes and cooking and baking.

Another influence was Sam Maloof. We had his furniture all over the house. We were friends with him, and frequented his self-built house.. He was described by the N.Y. Times as "a central figure in the postwar American crafts movement". I also design plans, interiors, and landscapes for my own homes.

How much time does it take to you to create one picture?

I see things in my head before I start. Sometimes I play around with the produce and I start to see what I want to do. It can start with a color or pattern. Some creations take 10 minutes, and some take an hour or more. It depends on the pattern and what I see.

What techniques do you use to perfect the image desired?

There really aren’t any techniques. I use natural light on a black or different backgrounds. I edit each photo with lighter or darker mode, clean up any white spots, trim the image, and sometimes enhance the colors to be brighter or darker, etc.

What brand camera do you use? What Lens’?

I use a Canon EOSM5 with a 15-45 mm lens

Do you believe a professional photograph of ugly produce can help sell them?


Have you seen an effective change in the behavior of consumers when it comes to ugly produce?

Yes. Through my campaign and photographs, Ugly Produce Is beautiful, more and more consumers are becoming aware of the tragedy of food waste. 

Do you have any future projects in mind? If so, what and why?!

I am always working on new projects. In talks with potential partners. However, I have a personal lifestyle and core value ethical philosophy I go by before I embark on a project, so it always takes much longer to find the right people.


On the same subject, russian artist Elena Gnut is a pastry chef who makes extremely detailed cakes made with precision, which reflect reality! 


Stay updated

Get the latest photographic news and inspiration