Photographers Michelle Gerard and Jenna Belevender create daily scenes and retro magic in the time of social distancing and beyond.
Detroit-based photographer-stylist dream team Michelle Gerard and Jenna Belvender recreate life for brands inside their studio. They’ve fabricated everything from diners, log cabins, and campy, 70s-horror-movie-inspired motels to grocery store conveyor belts. Collaborating with innovative independent food and lifestyle brands, G+B reimagines their clients’ visions with punch, sparkle, and a wink and a nod to the past and future.
Their innovative studio practice took on new meaning over the past year under quarantine, a resourceful means of staying productive when travel was impossible. We connected to learn more.
The Luupe: What’s the origin of the M+B collaborative dream team?
Gerard + Belevender: We both have a background in food and editorial, Jenna started out in restaurants, and Michelle in web-based food publications. We were admirers of each other’s work for a few years but began collaborating professionally in 2017. Our individual styles of shooting have always been similar but our creative process in terms of direction and styling has been slowly refined over the years together. We officially merged our businesses and got married in 2020!
The Luupe: That’s wonderful, congrats! Do you distinguish at all between collaborative work and individual practices?
G+B: All of our projects are now collaborative work, we don’t work on anything independently. If there is a project that one of us is more personally passionate about, our roles within that project might shift – one of us taking technical lead on photography while the other focused on production and styling.
The Luupe: It’s so interesting to see how your styles come together so seamlessly. One of the first things that stands out about your work is your sense of lighting and styling. It’s so distinct – the pow, the sparkles, the shimmer… but there’s obviously so much more…
G+B: We approach projects from a storytelling perspective. Narrative photos are the most fun so we do a lot of research beforehand on the subject and during the shoot, we ask ourselves a lot of questions about the styling – why would this prop be here? What’s just out of frame? What is the source of light if this was a real place/scene in the world?
The Luupe: What was one of the most exciting brands or projects you worked on recently?
G+B: Two projects we worked on in the last year we really loved and still get excited about were Dada Daily and Club Backdrops. Both companies let us completely run with the creative direction, styling, and set design on top of photography so we’re personally proud of those images. They are two completely different ideas, one was building a grocery store in studio and the other was a surreal “Renaissance Futuristic” dinner party.
The Luupe: You’ve been working on a couple of personal series as well, right?
G+B: The personal projects we’ve worked on recently that we loved shooting were our Christmas Dinner series and The Hitchcock Meals. Both projects were of course inspired by film and pop culture around specific movies. At the core, it’s fan art. We geek out about the directors and details of the movie and find ways to bring those details into the photo.
The Luupe: Do you have a dream project/ brand you’d love to work with?
G+B: We’ve been watching the industry change over the past ten years, how smaller direct-to-consumer companies have begun side-stepping traditional ad agencies and seeking out creators directly. Although big-name brands would be great to work with, our dream clients are smaller companies that focus heavily on creative branding. We love Dieux, Celebrate What You Eat, Proof Cocktail, Concrete Cat, and anyone who is interested in letting us create weird sets around their brand.
The Luupe: If you’re comfortable discussing, how has quarantine impacted your work/ process
G+B: We moved into our studio the week Covid was announced in Michigan, we were in full lockdown within another week. Like everyone else we were frustrated and scared, all our work disappeared overnight. The silver lining was that this became the first time we had radio silence in a decade so we decided to take advantage of it. We don’t know any creatives that don’t beg for more time to work on personal projects—now we had that with no clients, no social obligations, not even errands to run.
The Luupe: And so you began “Scenes From Quarantine!” How did this series come about?
G+B: As we began unpacking our studio and organizing all the props we’d been collecting for a few years, it seemed like the perfect time to test some of them and troubleshoot the projects we’d been talking about. We started out simple, trying to challenge ourselves every day to shoot. Inspired in large part by movies, TV shows, childhood memories, various decades, and the props we had on hand, but mostly food/drinks are at the center of it all.
Alongside us, our restaurant friends and clients were struggling to survive, so we started ordering food when we could to treat ourselves and use it in our scenes. This was truly personal work with no goal other than our own enjoyment and hopefully learning a little. “Scenes from Quarantine” has definitely been one of the most fun projects we’ve done.
The Luupe: Can you describe the creative vibes in Detroit / right now? Does it feel like things are coming back as we (hopefully) move towards the end of quarantine?
G+B: Now that we’re starting to come out on the other side of this pandemic, we feel that it’s coming back strong. There’s been a large shift in every industry, but people are eager to open new restaurants, start new creative projects, and move forward.
The Luupe Where are you looking for inspiration right now? Who’s moving you, your work/ keeping you going?
G+B: A lack of ideas has never been an issue for us, we always have more ideas than we have the time or money to accomplish. I keep a running list that’s inspired by movies and pop culture, stories we’ve heard, history of food, and anything nostalgic.
We see the amazing work that photographers like Louise Hagger, Noah Fecks, and stylists/creative directors such as Victoria Granof and Alexander Breeze put out there and are inspired to create something half as interesting.
The Luupe: What are you most excited about creatively in the coming year?
G+B: We’re excited to take on more of the creative direction and styling as well as photography this year, and looking forward to collaborating and working with more people on set so we can accomplish some of our larger project ideas!