Category Archives: Community

Bolivia: Perspective Shift

When people ask me how my trip to Bolivia was, I often say, “It was intensely amazing.” But, how can a sentence really describe the experience in a brief passing while shuffling kids to and from activities or in the grocery store?

The road to Toro Toro, a 6.5hr bus ride along a dirt and cobble stone road. Thankfully, we stopped to take lots of photos!
The road to Toro Toro, a 6.5hr bus ride along a dirt and cobble stone road. Thankfully, we stopped to take lots of photos!

The truth is that the whole trip was a huge perspective shift for me – from my heart to my mind. I found it was easier to digest the whole experience as a mother than a photographer. I’m not really sure why, except that is who I am at my core: a mother first, photographer second. That is why I shared about the trip on my Mommy blog first, “What Bolivia Showed Me.

And, I still think the most powerful lesson was that:

“I discovered that photography is a powerful tool to connect us across language and social status, almost as if it’s a form of communication all it’s own. It starts with a smile. And that moment in photography where you can feel the connection in a person’s eyes exists no matter the conditions.”

The trip really nailed the truth for me – that I love photography. And, I love using it in a way that connects us, that helps us have compassion for others.

Working with our interpreter, Abi, instructors: Andrew Nicodem and Benjamin Edwards.
Working with our interpreter, Abi, instructors: Andrew Nicodem and Benjamin Edwards.

Workshops With Purpose gave us an incredible opportunity to learn in real world conditions. Partnered with Food For The Hungry, we worked from a shot list as if we were on an assignment for their Little Ones Project. We worked with interpreters and saw the work being done to eradicate the high infant mortality rate and fight childhood malnutrition.

The local school, Rodeo Escalon, hosted a community garden where students and their families learned about diversifying crops, and sponsored children could learn up through 8th grade.
The local school, Rodeo Escalon, hosted a community garden where students and their families learned about diversifying crops, and sponsored children could learn up through 8th grade.

It was a beautiful thing to see mothers and fathers becoming empowered and educated about irrigation, nutrition and growing more diverse foods to feed their children. And, it was really powerful to work with the Food For The Hungry staff to see how passionate they are to do the work. These jobs are not what we have come to expect from traditional American jobs – they go above and beyond a job title.

Rodeo Escalon - a hand washing station with water purified by the sunshine.
Rodeo Escalon – a hand washing station with water purified by the sunshine.

What impressed me the most about Food For The Hungry is that they have an exit plan – a frame work to empower the people and enable them to support their community. They aren’t a big organization that expects to hand out bags of food or medicine. They connect the community to do the work within the country.

When I asked him to pick out his favorite vegetables from the family garden, he picked carrots!
When I asked him to pick out his favorite vegetables from the family garden, he picked carrots!


This little one's family is being helped by Food For the Hungry to diversify their crops and learn more about nutrition.
This little one’s family is being helped by Food For the Hungry to diversify their crops and learn more about nutrition.

I am grateful beyond words for having the opportunity to attend Workshops With Purpose and follow my heart. Yes, I do love non-profit photography and will look for ways to integrate this kind of work into my business before my retirement years!

©Susan Goldman Photography A photo of me walking along a Papaya farm devastated by a hail storm.
©Susan Goldman Photography A photo of me walking along a Papaya farm devastated by a hail storm.

Some smaller side lessons the workshop taught me:

1. I can take a cold shower and not freeze to death.

2. I like Llama meat.

3. Thunder and hail storms are breath-taking and livelihood crushing.

Whenever we get the chance to talk in person, feel free to ask me more about those side lessons!




It’s been quiet around here, but that’s because there’s been a flurry of activity. From a little family vacation to working as hard as I could to keep up with client work, and now to prepare for Bolivia!

I would not be able to go on this adventure – to do good while learning and expanding my photography skills – if it weren’t for my husband who first supported my crazy idea. And, the neighbor who volunteered to help me launch the Indiegogo campaign. Then came the flood of support from family and friends!BoliviaBound


There have been two very good questions, though, from strong women I admire:
1. How will you?

When I first announced at a family gathering that I was going to do this, she asked how I would be able to – knowing that I didn’t have the funds to go right away. I said that I didn’t know exactly, but that with a vote of confidence and check from a cousin, I was sure I could ask for more help and earn the rest…the truth is that I’m almost there. I’ve put some of the trip on credit, which is a first for my business. This is a workshop/location/cause that fits into a place in my heart that I can’t quite explain. So, I’m taking a leap of faith and following.

And, I’m grateful for everyone who is helping to make this happen: from my Mother-In-Law who is going to fill my shoes for a week to the friend who referred a portrait client.

2. Why not teach the people photography instead?

This is an excellent question, and one that I think could be asked of any group or non-profit who needs to raise awareness. First, the non-profit is working on basic life needs like food and childhood nutrition education. While there may be one or two workers who know how to use a camera, photography is not just the process of pushing a button. The job of photography in this instance is to tell their story in a way that engages and encourages others to get involved. Second, there’s the technical issues with equipment in remote villages – if a camera breaks down it might not be cost effective to fix it or to buy another one. And, I could drone on about lack of Internet access and the other technical details.

There are some who are trying to help aid in educating and enabling those less fortunate to tell their story, but it’s not the most effective model yet*. That’s why non-profits need photographers and videographers. Think about it: You get a letter telling you about a situation so dire it sounds unbelievable, and it’s typed in size 10 font on a double-sided sheet – is that as effective as a short clip or few photos you see your friend share?

On a more personal note, I have had questions about inequality and lack of awareness since moving into the North Delridge neighborhood of West Seattle. The heritage of this part of West Seattle lies in depressing statistics and a bad reputation as a place where gentrification and inequality mix like a sick city experiment. Our neighborhood is home to the lowest life expectancy in the county. We have been labeled as a food desert for lack of a grocery story or farmer’s market.

Basically, I hope to bring back some understanding of how to better work in my own neighborhood to bring us together and work toward improving and changing the depressing statistics. For all the years of volunteering and photographing our happy community gatherings, I feel ineffective, like I’m not making a difference yet.



p.s. A short interview of Kevin Kubota, an instructor, explaining what Workshops With Purpose is all about.

* Brooke Shaden uses her photography skills to help survivors of human trafficking tell their story in India. Her Promoting Passion blog is what inspired me to apply for the Bolivia Workshop.

Indiegogo has hosted several campaigns aimed at teaching photography to youth in areas such as Africa to tell their story through photojournalism.

Bolivia Update: Almost There


I can’t believe it’s almost time to purchase airplane tickets for this trip! The fundraising urgency has slowed down as we entered 2015, and I’m happy to report that I was able put all of my profits from 2014 into this trip, adding another $465. After trimming any excess spending (goodbye, Hulu subscription), I was able to add even more. And, I’ve been surprised and humbled by more family who have further supported me where I least expected it.

The plan moving forward is to put 50% of all my business profits toward the trip. I plan on borrowing the rest of the tuition from our family savings account and paying it back as fast as I can. I’m sending in the last of the tuition March 2nd!

Thank you all for inspiring me from the beginning with the launch of the Indiegogo campaign – that $550 start was the spark I needed to really reach for the chance to grow. I can hardly wait to share what I learn and show you another part of the world.



Bolivia Update: moving forward!

Slowly but surely, I’m inching forward toward the goal of attending Workshops with a Purpose in Bolivia come April 2015. When I first applied, I thought I was jumping in at the last minute to join an immersion workshop to learn non-profit photography. As chance would have it, the workshop was postponed.

This has given me the chance to work hard at earning my way there – a tiny dream come true in and of itself. I am so grateful for the support of friends and family to get me started – to everyone who donated on my Indiegogo campaign when I started, and those who have purchased portrait sessions or a fine art print. Everything adds up and helps – almost half way there:


And, to help keep you updated without filling the blog with incremental progress each week, I have added a Bolivia page so that you can read more about the progress.

THANK YOU for reading, sharing and helping me work toward the trip!

Ready For The Journey

I like to think of life like a surfing metaphor – there are always waves, some are stronger than others, and some will even carry you along when you didn’t want it to but sometimes you can pick which one to ride. The ride can end in a crash or leave you exhilarated and ready for another.  While I haven’t surfed since I was 19, I have experienced the beauty of riding along some big changes in my life.PacificWaves_HolliMargell (1)

Learning and doing non-profit photography is one wave I want to ride. For the Workshops With A Purpose Bolivia trip, it has been postponed until April 2015. It’s like a wave I know I want to ride, but it’s farther out than I expected. Which, after the initial disappointment is actually a good thing. I will have more time to get our family into a routine with the school year, and more time to earn the funds to go.

So, while it might appear like I’m putting this goal on the back burner, I’m actually working on it through my other endeavors. Every portrait session and all of my art photography sold will go toward my Bolivia Trip. I started a Bolivia page here on the site so that you can check out my progress, and I’ll only post an update once a month. That way, this site can get back to business!

Speaking of business, I am happy to share that I now offer studio sessions – we no longer have to schedule around the weather. These are at no additional cost, and are available at your request.

Thank you for reading,



Looking Back To Move Forward

Almost 16 years ago to this day, I accompanied my Grandma to Bolivia as she was taking a sort of reunion trip. Her family had lived there during her teen years as missionaries. I don’t remember what church they were serving under, but do remember that her time there left a lasting impression. She had the heart of an adventurer, and after 50 years spent working and raising 5 children of her own she wanted to go back to explore and remember.
As I looked through the old disposable camera photos of that trip, I smile inside and out.  I learned a lot more about her, about poverty and about how missionaries from various church groups try to help even when they can’t agree on how to work together back home.

I remember the redhead on our flight to Bolivia who was going to meet a guy she clicked with during his weeklong holiday in the states. How they were going to meet up in Argentina, and wondering at 16-years-old myself if that was such a good idea. So, I just listened to her as she excitedly told me about how amazing he was and excited she was to finally have found a guy like him.

I remember there was the restaurant in La Paz where we ate lunch. She couldn’t read the menu except for a few words here and there. I ordered what amounted to a pile of rice with veggies and a meat sauce. She ordered something that smelled like dirty socks. I kid you not. It was a yogurt like cold soup. Being the stubborn, frugal woman that she was, she finished it, holding her breath to as not to taste it as much.

I remember how after trying in vain to find her family’s old apartment in Cochabamba, my Grandma found us a Taxi that took us to a main Plaza. From there, she found her way home on foot or “shanks pony” as she called it. I was impressed at the memory her body held that her head could not as the walk took us straight there when street names were too fuzzy to recall.

I promised myself then that I would return some day and help out. I didn’t know how or when, but I knew I would somehow. Well, I have finally found the how and now is the when. You see, I’m rather intuitive when it comes to my relationships in life, but I am also very practical and rely on logic for my business. I’ve decided to start following my heart instead of my head and I’m excited to see where that takes me. First up is Bolivia!

Will you help me get there? I am raising funds through Indiegogo, and offer two deals on portraits through the campaign. You get a jump start on Christmas card photos and I get to fulfill a promise I made to myself.


Not the kind of update I had hoped to give!

The workshop may be postponed until spring 2015. So, I have decided to put my fundraising efforts on hold until a decision is made (they chose Sept. 1st to make the final call). I am dedicated to attending no matter when it happens.

Thank you so much for your support this far!

Dreaming big, and asking for help

When I was 20, my entrepreneurial Uncle Ron took me, and my cousin (his son) to a big business conference in Portland, Oregon. We heard from many leaders and successful business people about what it takes to succeed. The only part that really sticks out in my mind was a spot that Goldie Hawn filled. All of the speakers spoke to their climb to success and what guided them. She said something about how, when she was about 13, someone asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up, and she said, “Make people happy.” That was it. At the time she was studying Ballet, and was doing really well at that, but her drive was to make people happy. And with that simple intention she has succeeded.

So, as I have been trying to find my way in my own photography business, I have often asked myself, what do I want to do? I see beauty everywhere. I notice details many become immune to seeing. From fine art nature photography to weddings, these traits serve me well, but I’m still not succeeding in a way that can help me contribute to my family. Part of this is time, that’s certainly true, but part of it, I think, is that I’ve been holding back. I haven’t been completely honest with myself. What I have always done is help people.

Now this has taken many shapes, and provided many opportunities. I remember my first real job as a courtesy clerk (bagging groceries), I always kept busy and one time offered to take out the trash for the floral vendor who put together bouquets on site. She was grateful and a week later offered me a part time job. What she didn’t know is that I really wanted to work for her!

As life moved me around, I found myself oddly offered jobs literally helping others: from tutoring to baking to landscaping to wedding photography to an Internet start up to writing and a few odd jobs sprinkled in there. When I started a family, I decided to pour my heart into it, and I have learned so much more.

As our family started to grow, I could see room for me to help contribute to the family. That’s when I decided to use my photography in a way that could brighten someone’s day and fit into my full time mommy life, fine art nature photography. Two and half years into it, and tax season showed me it’s not the right direction. This has been my year of transition. I’ve taken a class on posing, a class on studio lighting, and attended a creative challenges class. All of it is leading me to the realization that I have never spoken about how I want to fulfill the desire to simply help people.

So, I’m going to put this out here on the Internet so it’s never forgotten: I want to use my photography to help people. At first I thought that it could be achieved to help capture a family’s life in an annual photo session. Then, I thought I could do it through modern portraits of women where they can see how beautiful they really are. And now I’m getting even more specific: I want to help non-profits through photography. My dream business involve doing part non-profit work traveling internationally and partly portraiture in Seattle.

In October, I will join Workshops With A Purpose in Bolivia to learn more about the Little Ones Project. Basically, it’s a work and learn opportunity: tell their story through photography while learning how to use photography to help non-profits around the world. Most other photography workshops are held in comfy retreats around the United States, and this one appealed to me because we are actually learning in the field and giving while learning.

Why Bolivia?

As their promotional video starts, “Bolivia has the second highest infant mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere.” Food for the Hungry is working to provide a solution to this through the Little Ones Project – teaching mothers nutrition and proper care to grow healthy kids.

As many of you already know, feeding kids well is one of my passions. And, while I have no idea what this program teaches, I’m sure we won’t be talking Paleo and Gluten Free. It will probably be basic, and my job will be to simply help them continue to do the work. Photographs will help tell the story and gather support.

And, Bolivia holds a special place in my heart. My grandma’s parents were missionaries in Cochabamba when she was teenager. She wanted to revisit her old stomping grounds about 50 years later, and chose me as her traveling companion when I was 16 (probably because I had street smarts and was young enough to not have a family of my own yet). Ever since that trip, I have wanted to go back. It was the first time I had ever seen real poverty. I promised myself then, that I would return someday to help. Guess which city the Little Ones Project is operating out of? Yes, Cochabamba.

Why now?

The timing is sudden for someone like me who likes to plan ahead and save. I had always held this dream in the back of my mind as something I couldn’t do until I was in my retirement years and the kids were all grown up. I assumed I would have to work first to build a successful photography business, then go on trips to donate my photography services.

Now I’m learning that you can do this as a way to make a living, and the only way to see if it’s really a dream I want to keep following is to experience it. Since my photography business is already taking a turn toward portraits and away from fine art, why not explore what I really want to do? Why wait and do it the traditional way I had envisioned?

Shout out to Studio 3 Cubed for capturing this image of me in action.

I am going to be honest. For my business, I’ve put every penny earned back into it, and this year I’m close to having a positive balance of just over $40. My biggest block is marketing and promoting myself.

So, I want to break through that block, and earn my way into this Workshop. Every photo session and every art photograph I sell between now and September will go toward my tuition and traveling costs. Not everyone can afford a photo session or needs a fine art print, and I get that. So, I’m asking you to help me book 16 photo sessions in the next two months. And, I’ll be adding a bunch of art prints to my Etsy shop to help me raise the funds ($6,000.00 will cover tuition and airfare) by September 10th.

As a thank you I will send a postcard from Bolivia to anyone who either purchases a session or  is able to refer and help me book a session or sell something from my Etsy shop.

And, yes, I offer gift certificates. I’m also thinking of doing a fundraising mini-session day so those with tighter budgets can get portraits too!

Learning More Than Just Lighting

It’s funny how inspiration strikes in the most unlikely places.

When I walked into the Creative Live course, The Lighting Challenge: Natural vs. Studio, I expected to learn how to use Studio lighting in a way that wasn’t harsh or difficult. The reason I have stayed away from studio lighting all this time is that I have never really liked the way it looks. Natural light has always been my preference for it’s ability to really help a subject shine.

During the course, I went through an internal roller-coaster. I was excited to be in the same room as two of the photographers I admire most, and giddy to be surrounded by talented classmates. Then, I started to see how these industry experts are really just not afraid to experiment and play with light.

Sue Bryce and Felix Kunze are just like everyone else. But, they have made choices that help them shine. Their work is full of beauty and passion for capturing light. I left the class inspired…

CL_Light_HolliMargell 6
Our lovely Co-Host and the Producer.
CL_Light_HolliMargell 7
Sue working her magic with natural light.
CL_Light_HolliMargell 9
Using “Mac Gyver” lighting for a Hollywood shoot.
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The best part of sitting in the front row of class wast this perspective!
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Felix and Sue taught the course together, and here they are listening to comments from the online students.
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My fan-girl pose.
Group photo: students, instructors, behind the scenes crew.
Group photo: students, instructors, behind the scenes crew.

When I came home at the end of the class, I could not wait to play with studio light. All the following day, I was floating with creative excitement. Then, late last night, I was dropped back down into my life and the struggle that lives in our neighborhood. You see, we have a neighborhood email group. There is an anonymous person who has been posting phone-photos that complain about how broken our neighborhood is and is using them to point fingers.

And that’s when the internal light bulb went on inside of me. No matter where you are in life, your age, address or job, you have the power to choose what you focus on with your thoughts and actions. You can choose to see the dark, ugliness, and soon that is all that you will see. Or, you can choose to see the light, the beauty and the progress.

For me personally, I have sat and looked at my work with a very critical eye. I have allowed myself to feel stuck because I don’t have a studio or I’m not making a living with photography. But, no more. I am going to focus on the light. To do that, I am re-launching my Cause, and renaming it, “Seattle Shines.”

Nathan Vass is a fellow Seattle photographer, and working with him, we will now not only focus on capturing the landscape of neglected Seattle neighborhoods, but the people who are shining a light and making a difference.

I am too practical to not realize that this won’t stop people from littering, breaking into cars and vandalizing the community garden shed, but it’s something I can do to help inspire change and celebrate the people who are doing it.

. . .

Stepping off of my soap-box now, and thank you for listening.



You’re Invited: West Seattle Spring Art Walk

WS ART WALK @ Remax Junction, April 10th, 6-9pm

You’re Invited:

West Seattle Art Walk Spring Show @ Remax Junction, April 10th, 6-9pm.

Come check out some of my floral favorites and springtime art photography with some wine and appetizers. A ceramic artist will have her wares on display as well, and a sculpture artist who uses recycled parts will show off two of his personal creations.

Remax Junction is located at 4727 44th Ave SW #101, Seattle, WA 98116 – across the street from the West Seattle Junction parking lot. The main street of West Seattle, California Avenue houses many businesses also participating in the Art Walk, and many lovely places to dine for dinner. Plan on a night of fun!