40-Wonderful Self Portraits

Inspiration started with a conversation:

I was sharing my work and photography journey with a highly successful photography teacher a few weeks before my 41st birthday. I said that if I died tomorrow, I would be happy with where my work has gone so far. He asked if I felt my work was complete, and I went on to share that photography has given me such incredible opportunities to connect with people and attracted some wonderful projects. I would say I feel fulfilled. And yet, I still want to grow and hone my skills. I want it to grow richer and continue to evolve.


The biggest struggle is making time to practice, play and explore my skills, to grow them further. That is how this project was born: it is an exploration of different lighting, styling and photography techniques while I also embrace and reflect on turning 41 - which inspires the name, 40-Wonderful!


Through July 31, 2024, I will be creating 41 self portraits to share. Stay tuned to watch this small corner of the internet, my virtual gallery grow with me. I'll be updating the page with the latest portrait on top, so scroll down to view the project timeline.


40 Wonderful Self-Portrait 32 of 41

40 Wonderful Self-Portrait 32 of 41

Leaning into my whole heart this week.


My heart olds grief, gratitude and a sweet sense of community. Thinking about this, I created my 32nd self-portrait with my new All You portrait style: emulating film photography by using only the tools in the studio, without any post-production retouching.


In the ever-growing AI landscape, I believe there's something precious about photography without retouching manipulation. That tie to authenticity can become clouded and detached when we retouch to far from the original. Mind you, I still respect and strive to help my clients feel and look their best with all the tools (Photoshop included). And yet, there is space for someone who wants to recognize all of themselves without perfection. That's why this style of photography fits me this week in particular.


I'm feeling joy and grief and gratitude. This portrait is my attempt to represent this bittersweet time.

40 Wonderful Self-Portrait 31 of 41

40 Wonderful Self-Portrait 31 of 41


When I was graduating from High School, I didn't have a professional portrait to celebrate. We had moved from Seattle to the small town of Sequim where my newly divorced Mom was hoping for a fresh start in a new community.


The transfer from West Seattle High School to Sequim High School held many silver linings, but there were some things that I missed out on that year. When I found out about the deadline for the yearbook, the best we could do was a portrait by my Mom. Since we had just moved in a month prior, we had little furniture except for our beds, a kitchen table and chairs, and some collapsable black camping chairs for the livingroom area. My Aunt had bought them for us from Costco. We would later get more typical furniture but that would be a few months later.


One of those black camping chairs served as my backdrop, and I think my brother held it up behind my head. Mom took my photo using her 35mm automatic camera. The result was a slightly blurred portrait. The artist that she was, she claimed it had a soft artful focus. While there's a lot I could say to share the tumultuous emotions that came with it, I now look back with some fondness for the experience.


I don't know if our oldest truly appreciates how deeply meaningful it was for me to do his Senior Portrait this year. As much as I smile now at the memory of my own experience, I am filled with gratitude that I was able to grow up and am able give our children more.


Today, it gives me so much joy to be able to do Senior Portraits for others! Occasionally I have also given them to friends who cannot afford them for their teens as well. It's something I haven't marketed because I do it as an act of love, not promotion. All to share that if you have someone in your life you know who didn't get or cannot afford a Senior Portrait, I have capacity to do so every few months. If you know someone in need, they can send me a brief message about this and I'm happy to find a time in my schedule to do so. I do this to honor my Mom who did the best she could with what she had at the time.

Self-Portrait of woman sitting with black dress, red strings by Holli Margell

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40 Wonderful Self-Portrait 30 of 41


My family has experienced layers of grief the past couple of weeks. I've been thinking a lot about the definition of a family by the American standard culture of our times. We have our family tree, sure, and we have the expectation of the family with two parents and average of two children.


What most people can't tell from looking at me is that my family tree is more complicated. Long before divorce rates were in the 50% range, my parents were each married 3 times. The first one resulting in my existence. And, there's still a window of opportunity should he choose it for my Dad to remarry someday. The results are that my siblings and I are each half-siblings as we share our mother but not our fathers.


This only really came up among family gatherings among us cousins. I didn't tell every new friend I made growing up. I knew we were different, but my family, our families never treated us differently and always welcome us together as a family. I didn't realize until I became a married woman with my own children just how special and wonderful that is.


In one week's time, my brother's Uncle died, and then our shared Uncle also died. To say it's been heavy and hard is to put it lightly. Both men were only 61-years-old. Their untimely deaths reminds me of all the treasures and lessons our families have given us. They remind me of just how important families are - no matter the generation or role. Uncles and Aunts raised my siblings and me just as much as our Grandparents and cousins have as well as Step-Dads and Step-Moms. Every person as done a part of it, some more than others.


I've been doing a lot of walking the past couple of weeks processing this hard part of the life cycle, death. One thing I was contemplating was how our history really emphasizes the family lineage and family trees. Today we see this in all of the platforms and sources available to trace your ancestry and DNA. In an effort to reflect my own family bloodlines and ties, I created this self-portrait. I call it, Family Lines.


You see these are my lines, and they are all connected to make me who I am today, going back 3 generations: my generation (points representing my siblings, step-siblings), my parents generation (points including their siblings, partners/spouses) and my Grandparents generation (points do not include their siblings, those start at the top).


I am so grateful for my family, all those who are connected with and without family lines by blood, lines formed with love. They make me who I am today.

Woman laughing portrait wearing blue skirt and red dress on black background.

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40 Wonderful Self-Portrait 29 of 41


Reflecting on my heritage, I was inspired to create a more joyful portrait that celebrates my Native American, Norwegian and Yugoslavian ancestors. Yes, I have more than these, but these are the largest in terms of knowing and having stories shared with me by my Grandparents. Doing research, I saw that all four flags incorporated red, white and blue into them.


For the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, there's red, white, sky blue, black and white. In the American flag, there's red, white and blue. The Norwegian flag has red, white and a dark blue. The Yugoslavian flag has red, white, blue and yellow, but Yugoslavia has a more recent history of change - the area my Grandmother's family was from is now considered part of Croatia. That flag too now includes red, white, two shades of blue and yellow.


As I was thinking about this, the history that converged to make my life possible, I wondered about what would be the most fulfilling way to celebrate through a portrait. Instantly, I thought of the Willow Tree, with it's symbolism to wisdom. So, I put the ask out to my community online, and two friends who live nearby offered branches for me to use: some from a Pussy Willow and some from a Corkscrew Willow. One source I found said that the Pussy Willow symbolizes rebirth, and Corkscrew Willow stands for resilience and flexibility. These felt perfectly aligned.


It was so much fun to sink into the flow of crafting all the details: Background area set with the Pussy Willow and the red, white and blue flowers sourced from our and our neighbor's garden. The long braids, I made from the Corkscrew Willow and both white and blue yard. For the wardrobe, I wore a thrifted skirt, red shirt, black boots, vintage belt, and necklace that was a gift from a member of the Coeur'd Alene tribe. It took me several hours to create the braids and background but only a few minutes to do the portrait. Might be the longest I have spent to create for this project!

40 Wonderful Self-Portrait 28 of 41

40 Wonderful Self-Portrait 28 of 41


This self-portrait was created just outside my studio. After working with clients, I found beautiful natural light around this lovely hedge. And, I decided it was perfect for a more natural, outdoors portrait. What you can't see is that I'm sitting on a gravel pathway in order to make this the full background.


I'm so grateful for this little studio and the landscaping that surrounds it. There's so much potential and seasonal backgrounds to enjoy. With my clients, I often ask them how they wish to be photographed and many choose the outdoors. I love having both options!


And, I'm so excited to share more as the project is over 68% complete. One of my fears when I started was whether or not I would have enough ideas to create. What I've found is that the inspiration keeps coming, and the hardest part is not creativity but time. I'm a little bit behind, and so there's going to be a few more weeks with more than one to share.

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40 Wonderful Self-Portrait 27 of 41

May 5th marks the end of National Week of Action for support of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Relatives week. In honor of MMIWR, I chose to do this self-portrait with the red handprint covering my mouth. This red hand is symbolic for all of the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women who have been silenced. Silenced by being ignored in the past, the present, or by the media.


Did you know that Washington state was ranked among the highest in the nation as of 2022 in terms of numbers of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives?


What can I do? I can share and support those who are doing the work to help. Here are two resources for learning more about the long, complicated history, and what kind of actions can be taken to change this:

And, you can learn more about your local tribal nations, and how to support their efforts to bring their community together, and education for safety. And encourage support between law enforcement among local jurisdictions, and local political leaders by writing your local lawmakers.

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40 Wonderful Self-Portrait 26 of 41

Earth Day inspired this portrait!


Dandelions have long been a source of inspiration for me too. They symbolize so much to me. The power of a seed, and their invasive tendencies are a reminder that one seed can bring big changes. These are often seen as weeds, but they also hold importance for Bees and are a medicinal plant. They nourish and support life wherever the wind carries them.


I was able to create this portrait by using a technique I saw on Instagram for stringing Dandelions as they were about to go to seed before they bloomed open. They sat for a day before they opened up, and then I sprayed them with some make-up finish spray to help them hold together for handling. And, I chose the yellow background in honor of their petal color. The dress I wore was my Mothers. It felt just right to wear - making the portrait feel more regal and special too.


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40 Wonderful Self-Portrait 25 of 41


Inspired by hope, by change, by resilience, and yes, by the artist Bansky. I was also inspired to use this red heart balloon that a relative had in their hospital room. They asked me to take it home when being transferred to a skilled nursing facility.


When I've seen loved ones navigate our health care system it both frustrates me and inspires me by seeing the drive of the human spirit to live. This living is hard work, harder for some than for others, but again and again I'm reminded of how risky it can be, and just how lucky some are more than others.


There are systems and power structures I wish I could change. I know far more than I wish I knew about addiction and how it hurts a family and friends. About how hard the health care workers work to keep people alive. How hard it can be for the patient and the health care team to work together.


Okay, enough of the hard stuff. I've always admired art that moves us. Street art in particular is something I've always admired in the sense that it's up for the sake of it, despite the risk of jail or misinterpretations by the audience. Because, frankly even fine art in galleries are risking misinterpretations. Art is so personal and reflects so much of us.


I hope this self-portrait reflects the wonder and sadness I felt when I first saw Banky's painting. Like a child who can't believe their balloon is floating up, but being entertained at the sight of it taking flight.


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On the practical side of things, it took a lot of work to get the balloon to face the right direction, and have my arm in the correct position. I ended up Photoshopping this portrait so it's really a composite where the balloon is in alignment, and my arms are just right. I could not find a day with the right amount of wind to move my hair as much as my dress.

Woman wearing green coat facing pink cherry blossoms with sunshine.

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40 Wonderful Self-Portrait 24 of 41


Spring is fully in bloom here in Seattle! While I love my studio and creative space it provides, with the weather turning brighter, it seemed natural to get outdoors.


And for this self-portrait, I felt inspired by an old Irish saying, "Keep your face in the sunshine and the shadows will fall behind you." That's a challenge when there are no sunshine filled days, but I like the point of the message.


As this project has crossed over the half-way mark, I was reflecting on how only 2 of the portraits were outdoors before this one. Moving forward, I'll be included more outside backgrounds. When I was considering what to wear for this portrait, I decided to wear a wonderful vintage coat. I thought the color would really highlight the soft pink of the Kwanzan Cherry Blossom. Then, for the final processing, I chose to lean into the vintage feel with some color toning for a film tone finish. It is so fun to see how ideas keep on coming from all kinds of sources!

Color photo of woman with clear umbrella and gray backdrop.

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40 Wonderful Self-Portrait 23 of 41


What's that saying, "When it rains, it pours"? Well, the past month it has rained both literally and figuratively. I've been working diligently, feeling more turtle like than rabbit as both personal life needs and business flowed with their own directions. Yes, that's a bit cryptic, but I'm happy to share that I felt prepared and ready to take on the challenges and see the rainbow afterward.


That's why I chose to pose with an umbrella for this self-portrait. It's so fascinating how sometimes I can get a vision that embodies what I'm processing in my life. As I was talking last month with a fine artist, we often wonder what is it all for? Like, is creating art to feed the ego? Is it more? Who gets to enjoy it? Who do we make it for?


When I think about the cost of fine, gallery level art, it can seem too far to reach. And, then I think about all the wonderful art we remember. Those that I've remembered or have stuck with me the longest are not confined to the art galleries. Some are, but some art I've seen on the street has moved me just as much. While I think art can fill an ego, it also touches our lives more deeply. It can help us process this lived experience. Instead of reading words on a page from someone else's life and perspective, we can view art that communicates life in a more dynamic way. I believe art is a reflection of our experience. And for some of us, visually communicating is easier than words.

Portraits of Holli on colorful backgrounds cropped square with 8 colors.

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40 Wonderful Self-Portrait 22 of 41

Two weeks ago, I was attending the combination conference of the Portrait Masters + Wedding and Portrait Photography International. It was a wonderful, creative whirlwind of classes, seminars and workshops! I left with so much inspiration and new friends.


One of my key take-aways was the joy that more creative portraiture brings me. I had the opportunity to photograph several "sets" - scenes set up with various backgrounds, with models, and different lighting. I was reminded that I have lots of colorful backgrounds and yet most of my clients prefer monochrome tones - black, white and gray.


Thankfully for me, I had a creative photo session with podcast hosts, and they loved the idea of incorporating color - each one with a different background color to be specific. I was inspired by them to make this self portrait a collage of all the colors I currently have in the studio. In the future, I'll be incorporating more variety in lighting too!

Black and White Photo of family hugging

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40 Wonderful Self-Portrait 21 of 41

My clients inspire me. This portrait, for example, was from a reference photo a client shared with me of a family group in a big hug. I just loved it!


As I have been working on this self-portrait project, I find myself thinking about how I'm part of a family, my own and the bigger extended family we share.


Our family is a huge part of who I am. My husband and children and cats are key to keeping me motivated and enjoying this life we live. While I did consider if it would be possible to include our two cats, it became too challenging to predict their availability! I'm just so grateful I could get 15 minutes with the teens and husband to humor me for this self-portrait. I love them all SO much, and I hope this communicates some of that.

Studio Portrait of Woman wearing glasses and black blouse with black backdrop

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40 Wonderful Self-Portrait 20 of 41

Last year gave me opportunities to explore more traditional and older styles of portraits! Partly from my clients wishing to celebrate their own projects like recreating a family portrait from the mid-1990's or a Grandmother's vintage coat. And, partly from going through some of my own family's portrait archives of my Great-Grandparents which showed me just how powerful personal portraits can be.


I discovered how much I appreciate and enjoy the older style of portraits and lighting. There is an artful way they make people look like they could step out of a different era! If it weren't for my contemporary glasses, I appear as if I was in the 1920's or 1950's.


For this self-portrait I used the classic 2-light setup one for the beauty style that makes eyes sparkle, and one for my hair to shine without getting lost on a dark background. I have to share that I really love how different lighting creates variety such as this self-portrait compared to the all natural light one I did previously. Both are beautiful, and both are me, but they have a different feel to them. That's the magic of photography!

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40 Wonderful self-portrait 19 of 41


When I first seriously started to study photography, it was with black and white film. I wanted to become a photojournalist. The idea of being a part of documenting history and possibly traveling was a big draw for me. To this day, I enjoy observing and watching people. Life had other plans, and I am grateful for that background.


For this portrait, I decided to play with those origins and set up the tripod in my studio. I looked out the window, watching a few people walk by, the bus going down the hill and people driving up the hill. If I could go back in time and tell my 20-year-old self where life would find me today, I'm not sure I could believe it. Having my own studio wasn't even a consideration for me back then. I just wanted to document stories as they unfolded around me, or on assignment to cover what's happening in the world.


To some extent, I still do that, but now I'm equipped with tools and skills to bring a layer of art into the photograph, as a portrait or documenting this one precious life. While we are becoming a culture where filters and retouching is the standard built into our phones and apps, I'm feeling the pull back to the magic of film photography, where light and composition do all the work to help others shine. So, this self-portrait was treated as such, no retouching, only some saturation adjustment for the black and white film look. It's all me, scars and white sparkle hairs showing, a tell that I'm able to age another year.



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40 Wonderful self-portrait 18 of 41


Don't forget who you are.


I've been thinking lately about my heritage. About being born and raised in Seattle, whose Grandparents both chose to raise their families in West Seattle to be specific. My Grandparents came to Seattle for different reasons, school and work being the big ones. On the one side, my Dad's side, there's a longer history here too. It's really cool to know where you come from in terms of family history.


The stories that brought my Great-Grandparents here to Washington state vary, but mostly it was for opportunity. As the city grows and changes and feels like we see more pains of density and gentrification, I think about them. And, our children's future in this city seems bright, but also not the same as it was for my parents, or even me. I am from here, and a mix of races that melt together. Who I am is a series of layers of life experiences and family cultures.


While I am not able to really show who I am in a portrait, I continue to explore ways to represent myself in this project. This portrait was inspired in a moment while looking out at Lake Washington a couple weeks ago. We were driving our older teenager and two friends to a volunteer event. It was a classic Seattle winter day with rain, gray skies and a soft light brought on by low clouds and areas of fog. As I looked out the window, a passenger in the car, I saw this dock out there, with the tree line, still water, and peek of neighboring city, Bellevue, as a serene landscape.


And to some, this portrait may not feel as dynamic or eye-catching as others, but for me, it holds these layers of meaning. It feels so much like home.

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40 Wonderful self-portrait 17 of 41


This week I was standing with my two teens, and the older teen's girlfriend outside a coffeeshop. We were talking and unexpectedly, the older teen says, "Hey, Mom, I see more of those white hairs popping up top of your head."


His girlfriend replied, "Why're you throwing shade, bro?"


I laughed as the older teen backtracked a bit with, "I think it's cool, you know, because it reminds me of your Mom."


It's true. My mom's hair went all white with age. I'm not sure when it started, but it felt a bit sudden as she stopped coloring it and let it all come in full view.


I didn't expect to get white hair, because most folks I know with dark hair like mine get gray hair with some sprinkles of white. But, I've always admired the white hairs of wisdom and age. I call these my sparkles. More and more spring up every day. It's changing not only the color of my hair but also the texture.


For this self-portrait, I also chose to do no retouching. I'm working to appreciate and celebrate all these signs of aging. I truly believe that to age is a gift.


I was also inspired earlier this week by my friend Jason who shared his own personal daily self-portrait project from years ago. As I browsed through that amazing archive of a year in his life, one of his close-ups like this struck a cord with my creative mind. While my portrait is not original, it's still so fun to play and explore different styles.


And that's just what this project is all about: making space to create and stretch my skills!

Portrait of Holli Margell sitting facing the camera with a sleeveless gray shirt showing arms tattoos

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40 Wonderful self-portrait 16 of 41

I don't have any tattoos or piercings. Being a resident of Seattle and over 40 years old, it feels like an unusual fun fact about myself. Most people I know, no matter their gender have at least one or both of these. As I age, I consider these acts of individual adornment, but the longer I wait, the more I think being "natural" makes me unique.


However, when our younger teen began expanding their art in more visible places like the wall of my studio, someone mentioned how cool it would be as a tattoo. So, I've been thinking about this ever since. Her ink drawing art with organic shapes reminds me a lot of my own Mother's art too. I'm now considering a tattoo using both of their art.


For this self-portrait, I bought our teen liquid tattoo eyeliner that lasts up to 36 hours. They created this one of a kind work of art on my arm in about an hour, and then I did these portraits. It was fun, and a low-cost way for me to audition the idea of getting a permanent version.

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40 Wonderful self-portrait 15 of 41


Yesterday was the 7th anniversary of my Mom's death. She died about 2 weeks shy of her 58th's birthday.


While I was planning today's portrait for this project, I had a few ideas from exploring the layers of grief we hold to focusing on the signs of aging myself with the white wild hairs growing into my hair. Instead, what I discovered was that movement and getting playful fit better. You see, when I reflected on all the lessons my Mom gave me, even in her death, it was her sense of playful creativity that really stands out. She used to tell me life was full of so much hardness, it was important to show the beauty and the joy it can hold.


So as simple as it is, this portrait, taken after exploring 3 different looks, fits best. Straight forward black and white really holds a special place in my heart too with that sense of timelessness, and a film feel. If I were to do this for a client project, I probably would have removed the side zipper pull and one stray hair on the left side of my head, maybe even brightening my teeth. Instead, this portrait is treated more like film, adjusted to black and white with nothing retouched. I'm discovering myself more and more drawn to this style, which is where I started in film photography. In the ever-changing creative landscape with AI portraits populating the world, I want to do more totally authentic portraits celebrating people as they are.

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40 Wonderful self-portrait 14 of 41

Hello 2024! It seemed the perfect time to do a self-portrait focused on an updated headshot portrait. I've been growing my hair out now for the past six months and it is now longer than it's been in several years.


This year, I'm fully embracing the fact that I'm growing older, new white hairs emerging everyday, my skin is changing and with that my smile too. I've been reminded more and more by my clients that it's a challenge to embrace these physical changes in a culture that celebrates youthfulness. And yet, I now just how much of a privilege it is to be able to age. Every year is a gift, as cheesy as it sounds.


When my Mom died in January of 2017, it was sudden and the grief really shook me to my core. While the years have eased the intensity of grief, they have also unfolded lessons about life. Watching our kids grow into young adults adds an entire other level to these lessons. The ways I see sparks of my Mom's life and personality emerge through them and even in myself bring comfort and wonder. I'm grateful for this life and each year, no matter how they change me.

Woman dancing in gray dress with a dark blue backdrop in vibrant color.

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40 Wonderful self-portrait 13 of 41

This time of year where we enter the holidays between the Solstice, Christmas and New Years feels like a flurry! I've had more social events to attend in one week than I have in years. So much to celebrate, and so the days feel full, stuffed, brimming. I find myself wishing it was slower, but also enjoying the energy and excitement. It almost feels like a dance, between movement and stillness.


That's what inspired this self-portrait! I was working with a slow shutter speed to get the movement, and took almost 200 photos to create this one. You see, at first I had too fast of a shutter speed and everything was in focus, then it was too slow and began to look like I had four legs or two faces, so I finally got it just right. Some movement, but no doubles on my legs or face. Then for the editing and retouching, I played a bit more with color. The original background and the dress are a medium gray. I decided something more vibrant and stage or film like was the look and feel I wanted. Blue felt more aligned with this part of the year and dancing too.


As we enter 2024, I hope we can find peace in and joy in the moments!

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40 Wonderful self-portrait 12 of 41

Going through my own family photos to organize them this fall, I was inspired by the old Glamour portraits of my Mom, and also those of older relatives. I'm thinking particularly of the really beautiful black and white portraits of older relatives. This portrait strives to embody the fun and festive feel those portray.


For my own glamour self-portrait, I found all of these wardrobe pieces in my own closet - they are all used. The earrings I got from my Mom, the fur coat is from a favorite vintage clothing seller on Etsy who happens to have had a yard sale in my neighborhood last spring! The dress is one I found for the Tree Woman Project back in 2014 at the local thrift store.


The Lighting I used was classic beauty style, and the retouching I did was to try and emulate older film from the Kodak variety. I was striving for a cinema feel in the tones of the 50's Hollywood era. Hopefully it inspires the fun feel I got when looking through my own family photos.



Retro Color self portrait with composite of three expressions on black background

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40 Wonderful self-portrait 11 of 41

This portrait was created with inspiration from both grief and a popular singer and songwriter. When I saw a creative portrait of the music artist, Billie Eilish by Cho Gi-Seok, it resonated with me both for it's throw back theme of those studio portraits that were popular in the mid-70's-early 90's, and for it's more moody feel. I actually have a portrait with this technique on film done of me and my Dad when I was about 12 years old - his and my portrait being composited together before the magic of Photoshop.


For this self-portrait, I embraced the vintage feel even more by wearing a dress discovered at a thrift store a couple years ago, and a necklace I bought at a garage sale. The necklace adds a little fun color and texture for an otherwise serious feeling.


With this year full of light and also darkness on a global scale, I feel like there's a layer of grief that is thicker than before. Perhaps it's because of all the loved ones I miss personally, or the magnitude at which I can know the suffering around the world or the dark days of December here in Seattle, but it felt time for a more solemn and reflective self-portrait. I find comfort in creating. May you find peace and comfort too.



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40-Wonderful, Self-Portrait 10

My Mom was one of my first art teachers, and supporters of my love for photography. She let me use her camera when I was little to start exploring, and would then naturally become a big supporter when I decided to launch my photography business.


She was also one of my Tree Women Project models - she's wearing this exact same sweater and floral crown in her portrait. And, I would later discover this portrait was such a favorite that my siblings and I chose it for her memorial and obituary portrait.


When she died in January 2017, we were with her, and felt our world turned upside-down. She was gone too soon after a breast cancer diagnosis just a month earlier. Sadly, it was very progressive, stage 4 and had metastasized to several places.


After she was gone, and we were going through the process of looking through her things and deciding who wanted what, I could not find this green sweater. It was something I had purchased for her as a gift in Port Angeles. She loved it and it was often her signature layer. It became a mystery! Once I thought I had found it on a friend at who wore something similar to an event - she had found it at a thrift store. It wasn't the one, with different collar and buttons.


A few years went by and my Step-Dad found it in a back cupboard part of their closet! Such a treasure for me to have it now, even if it isn't my style. I really appreciate having this physical part of her life.


It was only a matter of time for me to use Mom's sweater in one of these portraits. I was inspired when I setup a scene to photograph a friend's artwork for a show, and discovered I loved the soft, natural feel of light it produced. And then I even found a fallen branch laden with lichen like the ones she was photographed in front of back in November 2014. Yes, I took them and hung one from the wall of the studio, and used another in a foreground layer to photograph myself through for a touch of added texture.


My 10th 40-Wonderful self-portrait is not and exact replica of Mom's Tree Woman portrait, but it is just right in a unique way to honor her.

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40-Wonderful, Self-Portrait 9


"Time flies when you're having fun!" is a saying I've heard all my life.


Well, it honestly isn't always fun, but time sure does fly when you're busy! That past month has been just that - full of good and not so good busy, and I'm grateful for it all. This portrait was inspired by a client who wished to be photographed in the same format as one created in the early 1990's of him with his Mom and Sister! Of course, I had just the backdrop. It was SO MUCH fun to recreate the lighting set up and even their poses.


I always like to do light testing to have everything as close to ready when a client arrives. This was a perfect opportunity to test the light and create a self-portrait for my 40-Wonderful portrait series. Plus, I'm of an age where I remember how special and cool it was go to into a studio for portraits and then wait anxiously to see the proofs a week or more later. I chose a denim shirt to wear, because that's what fits my memory of a cool shirt of the time (though I did consider a white tee-shirt with a flannel layer as an option too).


This also feels very much like it could be in my High School Yearbook. But, I wasn't as confident then, and I certainly didn't like any of those photos at the time. It's been a wonderful opportunity to reflect on who I am now, and how much I've learned so far. This 40-Wonderful me is so much more comfortable in my own skin, and no longer as self-conscious. Honestly, I do still find myself not totally happy all the time with my appearance, but now I know more deeply that who I am is more than a photograph.


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40-Wonderful, Self-Portrait 8


What does running your own business look like? This was the question I was striving to answer with this portrait. As a solo-business owner, I do all the things. Clean the studio, book the clients, photograph, edit, deliver, social media posts, marketing flow, pay taxes, all the tasks.


When I thought of what would symbolize those things, the picture got too busy, so instead, I chose a few key tools: vacuum cleaner, laptop, desk and camera. I am grateful for these tools, and those I've learned to use that you cannot visibly see. They all empower me to use my favorite tool, which is using my camera to photograph beauty in people and places around us.


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40-Wonderful, self-portrait 7:


My name is Holli Margell, daughter of Keitheen Nichols, Granddaughter of Keith Nichols, Great-Granddaughter of Levi (Lee) Nichols, all of us members of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. I’m grateful I can trace our Native American family lineage back a couple more generations too.


While I am also a mix of Norwegian and Croatian (plus a few other European countries), I have more of a tie into this heritage with an active tribe. If I were to lean into my Norwegian or Croatian background, I no longer have elders in my family who carry any traditions of those cultures. I could go a museum or attend a cultural festival in Seattle, but it's not quite the same as meeting and seeing the culture practiced like I can when I attend the Eastern Shawnee of Oklahoma Pow-wow.


My Grandfather died when I was 13, and he didn't really have much in the way of traditions to pass onto us, only his stories. His family had moved before he was born away from the tribal land and eventually landed in Eastern Washington. He grew up in a time when being an Indian Family meant you'd literally be unfriended on the playground. His brother, Theodore also shared his stories. He was always eager to share what he knew of our family tree. I am grateful we have at least a place to visit, and a tribe that is prioritizing our cultural preservation.


For this self-portrait, I used natural light, and editing tools in order to create a more vintage black and white finish. I wore a shawl purchased at the Eastern Shawnee of Oklahoma Pow-wow created from a Cherokee Grandma. In color it reminded me of our tribal flag: light blue and red.


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40 Wonderful, self-portrait 6:

The new studio mural is complete! We learned many things through this process. I already knew our daughter was an artist, and to see her bring her art to a much larger space than her usual sketch books was so beautiful.


She drew this design in under an hour, the art flowing from her heart. She found some frustration with painting at this scale, because it didn't translate the desire to have fine line edges easily. We (her Dad and I), thought it looked amazing as she progressed. Then, I offered to lend my hands to painting the edges and discovered I not only enjoyed the process but have the dexterity and strength to do so. And, I'm thrilled with her art, to have her mural design up on the studio walls is so incredibly wonderful!


If only my Mom was here to see it. As an artist who painted many murals, signs, and her own works on canvass, she would be so overjoyed to see her granddaughter's work come to life. It's such a privilege to have this space and place for Iris' mural. It's a totally unique backdrop where I'm excited to create portraits. Seemed only fitting to include this in my 40-Wonderful Self Portrait series. This one has had no retouching done to it, simply out of the camera with studio lighting. When I do other portraits in the future, I will be removing the electrical outlet for sure. And, I'm already envisioning the fun I'll have with various chairs for posing clients in front of it.


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40 Wonderful, self-portrait 5:

Creativity brings chaos. This something I've seen all my life, but it really became clear to me this season.


Making space in the studio for my daughter to create a mural found me moving everything to one side of the space. This feels and looks chaotic but it provides space for creativity. That inspired this 5th portrait. Natural light from the windows was just lovely yesterday evening!


As this project moves forward, I keep wondering if I will run out of ideas for self portraits, but like this one, I am finding inspiration from every day life. And, I'm also discovering that a meaningful portrait can be created with a little or a lot of preparation. They all have their meaningfulness, no matter how much time was put into them. This one has very little editing. The lighting was simple. My outfit was what I wore that day. It documents the stage of owning a studio. A milestone in my business that I so enjoy!


And, it's funny how being a solo-business owner I don't know how much to celebrate or talk about it. Unlike others with careers that have clearly defined achievement levels like getting promoted to a Manager or Director, this is not something I can update on LinkedIn or a setting for social media status. For me this is a gentler, more personally fulfilling step in my business.


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40 Wonderful, self-portrait 4:


This morning I was planning a different portrait style, but my daughter told me she loved my hair! I had an early morning business meeting, and that mean I only had enough time to partially dry my hair after washing it. This meant is dried mostly naturally which enables my wilder hairs to curl and wave about. There is no controlling it at this point in the day. So, I thought this would be a perfect look to practice a backlight setup from the Felix Kunze Lighting Workshop I took last month.


The light set up is not simply a back light, it is more dynamic in that it really looks more like natural light. The key is in bouncing the strobe lighting back toward the person sitting for a portrait for a softer look. I love it! I did struggle wearing my glasses as it reflected the light coming off the reflective surface and I was unable to fix it; so I went without them.


The black and white looks felt right for this portrait because it add a touch of artfulness, and it feels right for my wilder hair. Someday, I may finally sort out how to achieve this with glasses!


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40-Wonderful, self-portrait 3:

I captured this portrait in the evening with a faint natural filter through the wildfire smoke in my Mother-In-Law's garden.


Sunflowers have long been among my favorite summer flowers. There has been a sweet theme this summer for sunflowers in my life. While I am not growing them in my garden this year, I have been delighted to see them in others' gardens and even visited a sunflower field recently for our family portraits by another photographer!


While I do not enjoy the fact that summers now seem to usher in wildfires in the Pacific Northwest, I am fascinated by the orange glowing filter it brings. In this evening light for my self portrait it is softer than during the middle of the day when the sun is directly shining through it.


I really enjoyed doing this natural light style of portrait as it goes back to my first years as a natural light photographer, my first style of work. The simplicity is sweet. And to further honor that, this has minimal editing too. My skin texture and hair sparkles (wild wise, white hairs) really shine.


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40-Wonderful, self-portrait 2:

For this portrait, I used a backlight technique learned during an in person lighting workshop I took in NYC last month! And, I chose to celebrate my childhood with some of the sports my Dad taught me (2 of many): roller skating and golf✨


While I do not have time to enjoy these very often, I’m grateful to have learned, and acknowledge my genetic inheritance of balance and coordination. When I was thinking about this, I realized one of the best things I learned from my Dad teaching me so many different sports was that I can learn anything if I try and then practice, practice, practice. This self-portrait project is a reflection of this too - I'm practicing some of the new lighting skills I have learned.


And, as a funny side-note about this particular portrait, it was a little bit challenging because my remote and in-camera timer were not working properly! I only had 30 minutes in my studio to complete this portrait on a very busy week (last week). So, I could not solve the remote issue, which means the Putter in my hand pointing at the camera was the only pose I could use since I needed to press the remote that direction which was also in my hand holding the club.


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40-Wonderful, self-portrait 1:

This was inspired in part by the Greta Gerwig Barbie movie. You see, I did have a few Barbies growing up, but I didn't find them key in my growth as a young woman in the 80's - they were fun, but my real enjoyment was found in art and craft projects, the earliest ones involved a lot of paper, crayons, colored pencils and tape or glue.


While reflecting on this, and the super women or heroes of the time, I chose to use colored backdrop paper rolled into columns with the help of my 15-year-old daughter. Primary colors seemed fitting since I remember distinctly being taught by my Mother about color theory and her showing my brother and I how color transformed using acrylic paint and mixing them together.


My Mother, and all those creative people in my life growing up were my real heroes. And, I chose the Super Woman stance for this first portrait in the project, because I know I can choose to be the hero of my own story.