Chinelle Ro’s Self-Portraits Are Some of the Best We’ve Ever Seen

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“I find self portrait work to be both healing and inspiring,” says Chinelle Ro. She continues, “it helps to channel thoughts and feelings, positive and negative, into creating reflective art.” We’ve been around a while here at The Phoblographer. Throughout the time we’ve featured many self-portrait photographers, and Ro’s are some of the best we’ve ever seen. A self taught photographer, business owner, mother, and wife, Ro has plenty going in her life. In love with her work, and curious about her story, we caught up with her to find out more.

The Essential Photography Gear of Chinelle Ro

  • Fujifilm XT4
  • Fujifilm EF-42 or EF-X500
  • Godox SL-60W

Chinelle says:

“As of late, my go to camera is the Fujifilm XT4. The flip out screen has been an absolute game changer for me with my self portrait work. I love that I’m able to see and confirm that I’m in the frame and where I want to be in the frame before I take the photos. Lens-wise, it always depends on the look I’m trying to achieve so that is always changing. I have been very minimalistic in my style, utilizing the tools I have on hand already so I don’t keep breaking the bank on unnecessary gear that I’ll barely use.”

“I have done plenty where I used only natural light and a reflector. I’ve done some where I’ve used the Fujifilm EF-42 or EF-X500 only or bounced that to a wall or reflector. Sometimes I’d use this cheap little off-brand video light. I recently (like this started dabbling in a little more cinematic style of lighting and purchased a Godox SL-60W, so you may be seeing more work with that in the future.”

Phoblographer: Hey Chinelle, please talk us through where the inspiration to do self-portraits came from.

Chinelle Ro: My self portrait journey officially started in 2010, after my husband bought me my first DSLR while he was deployed to Afghanistan. They originally started as boudoir-esque type photos to send to him. After a while, once he returned, they turned into more of a thing I did for myself, to boost my self esteem during low times, while also learning the art of photography, posing, and lighting more.

Phoblographer: We want to know more about the series featuring lots of color, fruit, and veggies – what’s the story behind the concept?

Chinelle Ro: That series is called “Plant-Based”. It actually stemmed from a self portrait I did back in 2013 holding oranges. I recreated the image, this time finding a creative way to wear the oranges rather than just hold them, back at the beginning of 2019. I thought it would be pretty cool to do a whole series of me wearing plant-based foods, paying homage to the plant-based lifestyle my family and I live.

Phoblographer: We love the astronaut themed set of images – what’s the story behind making those images?

Chinelle Ro: Those were so fun! I had actually found myself inspired by the black seamless paper I taped to the wall of our condo to hide the baby poop colored wall without having to paint or repaint. I tend to find myself inspired by some of the most random things. I looked at that wall and imagined the vast unknowns of the universe and what it might be like to float through it, so elevated in my thinking, that I no longer fit into the confines of this planet. Also, I’m secretly into sci-fi type shows and films, so naturally, going interstellar for a set was eventually going to happen.

Phoblographer: You have three children – whom you home school – and you’re managing your businesses. What’s a day in the life like for you and how do you find the balance to be creative?

Chinelle Ro: It can be a struggle attempting to balance it all, to be honest. I find myself awake by 4:30am almost every morning, so that I have plenty of time to get things that require my full attention done before the rest of the house wakes up to start their day between 8-9am. This is usually my time to respond to pertinent emails, send out contracts for my logo clients, brainstorm ideas for upcoming projects and business ventures, and of course, make sure that the kids will have everything that they need to be successful for that day of lessons (which I plan out and put into a planner every sunday night or early monday morning. The kids have a routine that they are relatively good at following and my boys are usually able to go through their lessons on their own without too much additional help needed (we decided to supplement our homeschooling this year with virtual school since my oldest is now a 6th grader).

My youngest is five and is just now learning to read, so going through her lessons can be exhausting, but we only spend a few hours a day actually doing them. Once everyone is finished with what they have to do, we all often end up finding ways to be creative or work on personal projects. My husband and I balance the work around the house fairly well, alternating who cooks, for example, so that our days run pretty smoothly. I’m very much a go with the flow type of person. Yes, I have a planner dictating what assignments and lessons my kids have to complete each day, but I’m also mindful of the need for breaks and me time. I have no problem taking a day off in the middle of the week just because we need or want one and I feel like that is so beneficial to the mental wellbeing of everyone in our house.

Phoblographer: Let’s say you get an idea for a particular shoot, how long does it take you from conception to having the final set of images?

Chinelle Ro: It really depends on my motivation. I have a notebook of ideas that I haven’t done yet, but I also have moments when I’ve been inspired by something and I NEED to create it that day or I’ll be consumed by the idea of it until it comes to fruition.

Phoblographer: You’ve taken a lot of self-portraits. How has this kind of work impacted the relationship you have with yourself on both a physical and emotional level?

Chinelle Ro: It forces me to really look at myself, particularly during the editing process, as I address what I perceive as flaws. The impact, in my opinion, often comes after the image has been shared on social media, during those moments when I get the “praise” that I’ve been subconsciously craving.

On the flip side, it can also foster more self doubt when a certain image doesn’t get the level of feedback that I felt like it deserved. I am aware that saying this points out that I often find myself longing for validation from my peers, that’s something that I struggle with. In general, I know that I’m worthy, smart, and considered attractive, but with the struggle of self confidence, sometimes I don’t feel like any of those things and when a compliment is given during those low times, it feels good, even if it may not be a particularly healthy dynamic.

Phoblographer: #myblackselfproject: What was the reasoning behind the name of this project?

Chinelle Ro: Back story: I’m Trinidadian by birth and by heritage. I grew up in the United States. As a child, growing up, I NEVER actually considered myself Black. I was just Trinidadian, as if they couldn’t be synonymous with each other. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I actually acknowledged that I’m a Black Trinidadian who grew up in a Black American society. When people see me, I’m Black FIRST before everything. It wasn’t until my mid 20s that I actually embraced that. So, titling the entirety of my self portrait work, my ongoing, 10-year long project, as “My Black Self” seemed appropriate. It’s a constant reminder, that I am, in fact, SO proud to be a Black woman, and wouldn’t change that for anything.

Phoblographer: You offer an online course for those wanting to take awesome selfies like yours – please give our readers an overview of what they can expect from the course.

Chinelle Ro: My online course is a short, self-paced, easy-to-follow experience that will walk the “student” through a self portrait session with me. They will get the opportunity to walk through a self portrait session with me from concept to creation, learn the tips and tricks that I personally use to create share-worthy self portraits that they can be proud of, and be encouraged to take the leap and practice themselves.

Phoblographer: Can you tell us what you’re working on right now or in the near future in relation to your self-portraits?

Chinelle Ro: I just started a new personal series that I’m calling “Distracted”. It will focus on the day to day tasks that I, and I know many other people, are guilty of putting on the backburner for the thrill of the scroll. I’m really working on being a clear storyteller for this series and making very full-scene, intentional lighting choices that I haven’t always done in the past.

Phoblographer: Finally – you’ve recently become an official Fujifilm X photographer. How does that feel?

Chinelle Ro: I am absolutely thrilled to be an X-Photographer! It has been on my radar since I switched to Fujifilm. I’m so happy to be part of such a diverse team of talented photographers and associated with a brand that I support fully. Being an x-photographer and my journey becoming one, only solidified my love and appreciation for Fujifilm and more specifically, the Fujifilm US team, who have become like family.

You can enjoy more of Chinelle’s work by visting her website.

All images by Chinelle Ro. Used with permission.

Dan Ginn

Dan Ginn is a content writer and journalist. He brings with him five years' experience writing in the photographic niche. During that time he has worked with a range of leading brands, as well as a host professional photographers within the industry.