Self Portrait Project

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!

40-Wonderful Self-Portrait 7 of 41

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.

40-Wonderful Self-Portrait 6 of 41

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.

40-Wonderful Self-Portrait 5 of 41

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.

40-Wonderful Self-Portrait 4 of 41

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!

40-Wonderful Self-Portrait 3 of 41

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.

40-Wonderful Self Portrait Project: 2 of 41

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.

40-Wonderful Self Portrait Project: Portrait 1 of 41

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.