Mary Jo Hoffman - STILL
What do you feel is the most meaningful/fulfilling part of the work you do?
I think without question it is the dailiness of the project. The daily obligation to post an image means I have to pay attention, not only to being creative in some way or another, but to the evolving seasons and to some of the micro changes that you notice only when you are looking closely at a landscape in an engaged and ongoing way. I also believe that a lot of parenting is about doing things, not just saying things. I think your kids are more likely to grow up and do what you did, than to do what you told them to do. It’s actually just the opposite of “Do what I say, not what I do.” So a daily creative habit is, in a funny sense, a way of trying to be a good parent. I’m saying, with my actions not my words, that I think creativity, and following your curiosity, are important enough to integrate into even a very busy 21st century family life.
How would you describe your creative process?
I try to take a walk every day with my dog. He’s a neurotic puggle and everyone, including him, is happier when he’s had a walk. I will pick up whatever the season has on offer that day. It can be leaves, feathers, stems, branches, eggs, bones, insects, butterfly wings, fallen nests, mushrooms, or tree bark. Sometimes I bring a roll of black or white paper with me and photograph in the field, but more often I will bring my daily finds back to my house, where I have a tripod and a joystick that can be moved anywhere in the house where the light happens to be best at that time of day. I deliberately chose a method that allows me to fit my daily photo in among the various obligations and unexpected events that crop up in the life of a family of four. I can take a walk in the morning, arrange my subject after lunch, and photograph between soccer drop-off and dinnertime. I will usually take a dozen or two images, and then spend 20 minutes to half an hour on photoshop postprocessing. Sometimes I ask my family for help with composition or assemblages, and I usually ask for tiebreakers between two good but different images. My fourteen year old son actually has one of the best instinctive eyes for design and composition in the family now.
What is it about the place you chose as your escape that inspires your work?
In some sense I live every day in my escape, which is the house we chose 12 years ago. It looks over a cattail bed onto a lake, and is surrounded by several acres of woods. Part of our family project over the last several years has been to create a life we don’t need to “vacate” from. To integrate work and creativity and play in a way that doesn’t require dedicated periods of soul deadening work, followed by restorative stretches of “escape," and “doing nothing.” I’m not saying we always succeed. We are just exiting a stretch of activity that was too much—too many simultaneous projects, too many nights away from home, too little time together. But on the whole, what we are trying to do is make careful decisions about what’s important and what’s not, and crossing as much of the latter off our list as possible. In that spirit, we bought a house that also serves as a sort of lake cabin. My photography is both work and play. My husband’s career is confined to only one half of the year, and he spends the other half writing about food and wine, two of his great loves. When it’s all working, this is the life we want to escape into, rather than escape from.
On the other hand, and in spite of all of the above, we do get the itch about every two years to spend time in southern France, which, although our life looks very similar there to the way it looks here, could be called a kind of escape. As much as you insist that you are going to unplug, and say no, and focus on what's important, that is still harder to do in your home town than somewhere outside your usual geographic circle. Southern France is very different from Minnesota. It is a hot, dry, talkative, physically affectionate, strong-flavored Mediterranean culture, and something about the friction between our life there and our life here throws off creative sparks that often light the way for years.
What drove you to be an entrepreneur?
I had no choice. I have been a kind of rebel since I was a little girl. I was a tomboy, I loved math and science and played sports and punched boys in the nose when they bullied my brother. I have always asked forgiveness not permission, and have always loved thinking strategically about risk. I had a corporate job for 15 years as an aerospace engineer and loved it in many ways, but could never have traded my time for money over the course of an entire career. My husband and I sit down regularly over dinner at restaurants to plan out our five year plans, and we both thrive on the balancing act between chasing enough money to keep the family afloat and afford a few nice things, and chasing dreams that can only be realized when a lot of time and love is dedicated to them.