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The home is almost twice the size of the one the couple shared with their two children on a busy Minneapolis street. And about a thousand times more serene. “I noticed the light right away,” says Mary Jo, a photographer and creator of the blog Still (stillblog.net). A short two weeks later, the place was all theirs. “It was so impulsive!” she admits. “We didn’t even do an inspection.”
Daughter Eva, 15, outside the sleeping porch.
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The purchase was just another aspect of Mary Jo’s effort to nurture her artistic side. A few years earlier, she had left her job as an aerospace engineer. “We had so much difficulty having our second child, Joseph, that I didn’t want to take motherhood for granted,” she says. (To compensate for the loss of income, Steve ramped up his work as a real-estate broker and tax preparer.)
Eva and Joseph walk the dock to the lake.
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At their new house, amid so much natural beauty, Mary Jo also became more serious about photography, which had been a hobby since she’d gotten a camera for college graduation. Despite her engineering career, “I always knew I was creative at heart,” she says.
Mary Jo in her studio (it really is that low-tech).
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Hobby Turned Career
In fact, she had shelves filled with sketchbooks and an entire hard drive of photos but had never dared show her work to anyone. “I realized I needed to quit hiding.” Still launched in January 2012 as a personal challenge: to post a photograph of a found natural item every day. It drew a following, and she even got several requests to buy her images.
Rocks, leaves, and specimens in the studio.
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Her pictures also decorate the Hoffman home, with the white walls acting as galleries. “I’m constantly rotating things in and out,” she says. A more permanent art installation lives above the living-room fireplace: Her 15-year-old daughter, Eva, arranged 198 of Still’s images in a neat grid.
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Feathers ready for their close-up.
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Mary Jo painted this map in her sketchbook.
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In the woods and cattails surrounding the family’s home, there’s no shortage of material to photograph. “Now I’m hyper-focused on what’s around me,” Mary Jo says. “What’s happening? What’s about to bloom? What’s about to wither?”
Mary Jo plays with an arrangement. She plays around with each specimen until she finds the best angle to highlight patterns and textures, and then shoots it in natural light.
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Of course, having a curious 9-year-old boy around helps with tracking down new subject matter, too. She calls Joseph her primary finder: “Once he turned 4 or 5, he just started bringing me stuff—frogs, heron eggs, butterflies with missing wings,” she says. “He’ll run into the house yelling, ‘Mom! I stuck my hand inside a hole in a tree and found a raccoon skull!’”
Joseph, 9, examines his finds.