Something profound happens when Mary Jo Hoffman gets behind her “not very fancy” Canon Rebel and focuses on the natural specimens she’s documenting. To paraphrase William Blake, she captures the world in a grain of sand—every microelement of the leaves, twigs, or seedpods reveal themselves with piercing clarity against a white background. Then Hoffman beams the images out to the universe on her blog STILL.
“Look at that cattail—isn’t it awesome?” Hoffman says, as she walks along the narrow dock that juts out from her parcel of shoreline on Turtle Lake.
Cattails, mallard feathers, and snippets of evergreen get scooped up on Hoffman’s jaunts around the one-acre property she shares with her husband Steve, and their kids Eva, 16, and Joseph, 10, and when they take STILL on the road to southwestern France, where the family splits their time. Influenced by French polyculture, their home in Minnesota is a mini farm of sorts, with a beehive, chickens, herb garden, and fishing off the dock. “We’ve got a little of this and a little of that,” Hoffman says.
Up a hill overlooking the lot, the family’s ’70s rambler is also Hoffman’s office, with assemblages of North Shore rocks, nests, and dried plants, set up on tables or poking out of boxes. Most items have at one time or another been a star in the ever-growing archive of 800 photos on STILL, which launched in January 2012 as Hoffman’s personal effort to visually journal one object of nature a day.
Six months later, Hoffman’s home and blog were featured on Design Sponge, “and it just exploded,” she says. “I had never looked at Google Analytics, and when I did, I thought, oh my god, I have thousands of people checking it out.” The fans came, and so did the requests for images, so Hoffman started licensing them—her photos have appeared in books, wine labels, even tattoos. She has also prototyped concepts for how to incorporate her images into projects such as throw pillows, tea towels, and stitched photo “quilts.”
Hoffman, a former aerospace engineer who once dreamed of being an astronaut, says it struck her recently that those aspirations are not so dissimilar to what she’s doing now. “I used to imagine that years of training would lead to that moment of sublime beauty when you see the Earth from space. But today, when I am out looking for STILL blog images, it is similar moments of discovery, of seeing things in a new way, of having my breath taken from me, that keep me energized and passionate about what I’m doing,” she says. And she continues to do it. Every single day.