By Manna Zel, she/they
When art director Audrey Hubert reached out to photographer Gabrielle Robert for a photo shoot, she was just out of school, freelancing in art direction and photography, and searching for photos she felt would represent her. For a while, they’d both admired one another’s work from afar on social media, and when they met in person, they immediately clicked. Hubert’s work, which focused mostly on beauty, was a reflection of the ideas that filled her head, but she always felt more artistic than she did technical. Robert, on the other hand, had spent years studying photography, doing research, and assisting photographers and retouchers—transitioning into beauty just six months before meeting Hubert in real life.
“We say a lot that we’re soulmates,” Hubert laughs over Zoom, calling in from Montreal where both she and Robert are based. “We had the same interests, the same way of thinking—and then each on our own, we had this idea in mind to join forces and do both sides—so product photography and model photography together.”
Now, Hubert and Robert’s creative partnership, Up Close, collaborates with brands like Youth To The People, Alper Oils, and Dermaflash—bringing to life their fresh take on beauty in a way that invites the viewer to embrace individuality. Below, catch their full interview with To The People, along with what they dreamed up for the 15% Vitamin C + Clean Caffeine Energy Serum campaign.
Manna Zel: You refer to your work as this uplifting visual language that the beholder gets to experience. Can you tell me more about this language, and how you go from having an artistic vision in your mind to creating something that you can see and feel and touch?
Audrey Hubert: I remember when we met, we wanted to touch images when we were really into something. We were like, “Oh, this feels soft.” And we couldn’t just see the image—we could feel it, and feel the experience behind it. I feel that’s what’s really behind that quote on our website, that it’s not just about making a visual product, but really something that you can feel and touch and have an experience and an emotion with.
Gabrielle Robert: It’s also bringing this kind of more young approach to beauty. I feel like if you go online and you look at beauty campaigns of big companies maybe five years ago, there is a way of representing beauty that was really the same—perfection, well-retouched, everything was just so perfect. And I think we bring a different vision of beauty that’s another part of this.
MZ: How do you define beauty, both individually and together in your work?
AH: When I feel an emotion, I can say that it’s beauty. It’s so abstract in my head, but beauty is not makeup or skincare—even if it’s the center of our work, it’s not about that. It’s about feeling something. Even a walk in the park can be beauty for me, you know what I mean? Even the small, mundane things can be beauty. It doesn’t have to center around a skinny model, for example—it’s not about that. It’s about what the work makes you feel.
GR: If I’m thinking about beauty as literally beauty, photography, brands, and stuff, I would say it’s really important to represent differently those kinds of skincare and makeup brands. Like I said before, you always saw the same kind of beauty shoot, representation of makeup, of perfection, the blonde girl… If I were to say what is beauty for me in photography, I would say everyone is beautiful. Last year was a marking point of like… things need to change. I think when you do commercial and you want to sell product, to show to the world that beauty is not just that pretty blonde girl. It’s everyone; it’s all of us. So represent it like it is. I think it’s really important for us, Audrey and I, to do this in our work.
AH: Beauty is also representing them during our shoots, and making our models feel safe and beautiful within their own skin and just being able to feel beautiful within our own space. That’s also really important to me in our discussion of beauty, I think, and that I have conversations with Gab [about] that some clients in the past were making the model feel small. This is such an important part of our work, to me, to make the model feel that they are in a safe space and that they can be their true, beautiful self with us.
MZ: Speaking of shoots and models, the work the two of you created for Youth To The People’s Energy Serum campaign was beyond beautiful. How did the two of you first connect with YTTP?
AH: Thank you! I slid into Greg’s DMs in a really professional and nice way. We were looking forward to maybe one day working with the brand, and I just thought, Why not be direct and say, “Hey, we love what you do. How about we work together?” And it worked! We had a call with the team and it was a really good match, I think, and even if we are like, I don’t know how many miles away, it still works amazingly.
MZ: Did you typically work virtually with clients pre-COVID?
AH: I would say that 90% of our client roster is elsewhere, and often in a different time zone as well. We just [make] it work and I think that’s a beautiful thing to experience as well.
GR: I think COVID made me realize it was possible to work with clients I was open to working with. Before, I wouldn’t have been sure about writing to a company overseas because in your head, you’re just like, “Okay, I’m in Canada, why would this company hire us because it’s so far?” But COVID just brings this way of working with everyone from home and we just realized why not try with clients and reach out and try to work with people overseas. It worked really well and we are really happy about that.
AH: This last year just helped us perfect our ways to have a shoot with our clients from elsewhere. Last week, we had a shoot with Youth To The People again and we were connected live from the monitor and then I had my phone to live view us walking on the shoot, so that was really nice.
MZ: I imagine that working so closely together, you likely pick up on one another’s energy, whether in a positive or negative way. How do you work through that and how do you balance it with life, work, and creativity?
GR: I think we complete each other. It’s kind of unconscious, but we gauge our emotion and it’s not at the same time. When we have to go in and go out—when it’s Audrey’s turn to work and I’m going away because I know it’s her part—we can kind of feel the energy of each other without speaking to [one another]. It’s weird. I don’t know how to explain it.
AH: The meme we send the most often is [of] telepathic people connecting. That’s really funny. It’s really nice because we just understand each other and we understand our behavior, so we know when to give each other the space and time to breathe or to just take more on if we feel that the other person is not mentally there to do it. Mental health is a big thing we have at heart… We really want to be there for each other. It’s much more than just a professional thing. We just want to make sure we take good care of each other as well.
MZ: How do you balance being friends, business partners, and creative partners at the same time?
GR: When you work with someone, even if it’s your friend, if you’re honest with everything and you always say when there’s something okay at this time—not waiting to talk about something or anything—I think it’s the key to keeping this relation really good. I don’t even feel that we have, we never have these kinds of…
AH: We never keep anything for ourselves. Most of the time, I would say that we are pretty aware of our own behaviors so we can beforehand be like, “Hey, I know I act this way and I know it was a bit stressy. I’m sorry.” And often the other person doesn’t even realize. So we’re just really listening to the other one and just being really aware of our own behavior because we want this to work and we want this to be healthy. So now, so far for almost a year and a half we [haven’t had] discord or anything, and we went through a lot of things.
MZ: Gabrielle, you spoke a bit earlier about how watching beauty evolve—and Audrey, you touched on this as well—but I wonder, for both of you, what are your visions for the future of beauty, like this industry and this space?
GR: There are labels, and I just wish that someday we don’t have to add those labels. Diversity is there, the world is everyone, why should we add labels to everything?AH: In the same way, I would say I can’t wait for the day when beauty is not a trend anymore, when diversity isn’t a trend anymore and isn’t to have a quota and that you present a casting to the client and they choose one plus-size [model] because that’s what they want to include and nothing more. I want clients to fall in love with individuals and models, not trying to fill boxes of what they think is diverse. It’s like what Youth To The People is doing—you have a pledge and that’s beautiful to see. You have a look at the casting and you choose people for the person they are, not because you want to fill a box, and I think that’s beautiful.