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Daily Inspiration: Meet Michelle Nagri

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michelle Nagri.

Hi Michelle, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
Growing up I was a painfully shy kid. It was a struggle to find my voice. Coming from a mixed household with a Colombian mom and American dad it was hard to fit in and feel part of something. Despite the awkwardness, I still had something within that I was yearning to share with the world and it took years to figure out what and how. In high school, I had taken some courses in photography, art, and psychology. I loved all of them. When it came time to choose a major for college, I was torn between art and psychology. I decided psychology would be the “safest” route and followed that path for quite some time, finding opportunities at the University of Florida in several psych research labs after graduating with a Bachelor’s of Science. So in that regard, it ended up being a safe route for me. Yet, I still had hesitancy about pursuing a graduate degree.

Being a first-generation college student, I didn’t have a lot of guidance or pressure from my family, which left the field uncomfortably wide open. Adding to the discomfort was the tragic loss of my 34-year-old aunt to gun violence in 2008. She was like a sister to me growing up. Her death taught me that tomorrow is never guaranteed and would shape many of my decisions in the future. If I found myself in seemingly good situations yet feeling unfulfilled, I would ask myself if I was living my best life. This would inspire me to take some big risks in life in the years to come. In 2010, just after graduation, I made a trip to Titusville to watch the shuttle launch. My friend let me play around with his DSLR camera and I immediately fell in love. Photographing the shuttle launch was such a moving and inspiring moment. I found something that finally gave me a voice. A way to share the beauty of the world around us and the little details hiding in plain view while documenting an unforgettable day. At the time, I was also exploring oil painting after a trip to the Salvador Dali museum in St. Pete inspired me to find new ways of seeing the world. In my search to find oil painting courses, I came across the Gainesville Photo Club and decided to join. I was able to expand my knowledge through several mentors in the club and start leaning into my own style.

In 2014, on a serendipitous whim, I decided to do my first outdoor art show in the Gainesville area. I’ve been doing the local outdoor shows (until COVID put an end to that last year), winning an award of merit in 2015 and being invited to be the Santa Fe College Spring Arts Festival 50th Anniversary poster artist in 2019. I also pursued many local exhibitions in the area, taking on awards and receiving solo exhibits. I even did an international digital art fair in 2020, which took art exhibition to a whole new level. In 2016 I made a great leap and decided to leave my research coordinator position at UF to pursue my art and freelance work full-time. The idea of being an artist was exciting to me, and though I had ideas of how to create my own career via life coaching, I didn’t have the clarity at the time and things didn’t play out how I expected.

I took freelance jobs as a photographer’s assistant and a gallery manager/grant writer for the Gainesville Fine Arts Association. I worked in these jobs on and off over the years until I committed fully to my art in 2020. As we all know, 2020 had different ideas in mind and as all my shows met the chopping block one by one, I had to get creative. I signed up for a life coach certification program as a way to bring back my psychology roots of wanting to help others and mix it in with my creativity and empathetic nature. As a Certified Life Coach, I’m working with creatives who feel stuck and are looking for a change. I combine my unique perspective that my photography has honed over the years with my personal struggles of finding my way in the world so that I can help others find theirs. When life gets back to normal, I hope to reinstate my walkabouts to get other artists unstuck and inspired in their work.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
There have been many obstacles and challenges along the way. Making a living as an artist in and of itself is difficult, and if you lose sight of your way, it can be easy to get discouraged or set off on the wrong track as I did. When I took the leap of faith to go full-time with my art, I wasn’t totally ready for the struggles that were ahead of me. Mentally I was ready to do my own thing, have a lifestyle that suited my unique personality, reminding myself that life was short. That’s what kept me moving past the hurdles. Financially though, art, especially digital photography, can be very expensive which posed a huge barrier for me leveling up in the way I wanted. It takes time, patience, dedication, and resilience. Sometimes I find my quiet nature gets in the way as well, opting for the art to speak to the viewer instead of me shouting it to them.

COVID presented its own set of challenges, which forced me to rely on social media and my online presence to make sales. Thankfully I had a shop on my website and Etsy so there wasn’t a lot of legwork to get set up. However, standing out on social media has gotten harder and harder over the years. At the end of the day, the most difficult part is losing sight of your why, your reason to create. It can be easy to get caught up in the rat race of being an artist between social media, art shows, awards, and everyone being a critic. There were many times when I was ready to give up, but there has always been a part of me inside that said I have to keep going and share what’s inside me. I’ve been grateful for the few mentors that I have had who have encouraged me in one way or another as I find my way in the art world.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
When I first started out in photography, I had a thing for abstracting reality with the camera. The Arc and Space Lilies are two pieces of mine that exemplify that approach. I focus on shape, lighting, and the natural or manmade elements that I come across in the world. The limitations of my equipment force me to think mindfully about my composition. Digital photography is very tech/gear oriented, but that’s actually my least favorite part of the art form. I like what the tech/gear can do, but I don’t like to get caught up in all the jargon. For me it’s about creating. Whenever I’m in a creative rut, I like to limit my equipment so that I can be more in tune with my environment and force myself to compose creatively. The composition is my favorite part of photography – instant paintings!

In 2017 I started to incorporate Photoshop into my work after taking some tutorials by Deke McClelland. His teaching style really clicked in a way that inspired me through the limitless possibilities of Photoshop as opposed to feeling overwhelmed, which is where I was before. That year I was in a creative rut and getting ready to turn 30 – a big “oh no” year for women. I didn’t have all the checkboxes checked, but that didn’t mean I had to be a ticking time bomb because I turned a certain age. As a way to celebrate 30, I set a challenge for myself through my own 365 Project. On my birthday, I took a nocturnal abstract photograph of a Vietnam Veteran’s memorial in Savannah, GA (Raw Image). Everyday for a year, I would digitally alter that one photograph differently, resulting in 365 unique variations of the same image. My 365 Project reignited my art career leading to numerous awards, exhibitions, poster artists, and ultimately self-publishing my own limited edition book on the series.

In 2019 I wanted to have a new project to work towards that incorporated more photography into the digital work. Water is one of my favorite elements, and my home state of Florida is home to so many bodies of water that I had to bring all these elements into a single series. Titled For the Love of Water, this series has me going to various water locations around the state of Florida, from springs to wetlands, beaches to lakes, and more. I take photographs of a location and then digitally collage them into one work that expresses the essence of that location. I also made this a limited edition series, with each piece having only 46 prints and one artist proof. This series is still ongoing. My goal is to highlight the beauty and finiteness of our most precious natural resource – water. I hope that people can be inspired to be better stewards of our waterways and recognize just how important water is to life. I’m also a practitioner of meditation, and with all the stresses of 2020, I decided to create a Meditative Landscapes series using digital collage again. Each piece has a word or mantra written on it, and the imagery is meant to evoke that word. The idea is that you can use the art and mantra in conjunction with your meditation practice and to quickly find groundedness or joy in stressful moments. Although most of my recent work centers around digital collage with photography, I still take straight ahead photos and enjoy writing 100-word poems about them to share with others.

Alright, so to wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Nope, this feels thorough! Thank you for providing me this opportunity.

Pricing:

  • Florida Water limited edition series ranges from $30 to $4000

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