Jennifer Steensma Hoag is a professor and photographer whose art explores how humans interact with the natural environment. Her recent exhibition, Botanica, “considers the visuals that humans make to understand, appreciate, and communicate about the natural world.” Production of the artwork in the exhibit was made possible through a sabbatical leave provided by Calvin University. Here, Steensma Hoag explains her work in her own words. 


“Michigan naturalist and environmental educator Jeanette Henderson ’02 sourced local non-native species and created floral arrangements that I transformed into photographic images inspired by Northern Renaissance still life paintings. During the Renaissance, plant and animal specimens were collected through increased trade across oceans and continents. There was a fascination with the unusual and exotic, and an interest in leveraging plants for medicinal use and economic opportunity. Northern Renaissance still life paintings often had allegories of mortality and morality. The presence of nature enforced that life passes away—flowers wither, birds die. The non-native species in Contingent Existence were intentionally brought to North America to fulfill aesthetic, medicinal, culinary, and landscaping needs— or unintentionally as stowaways in pots or ship ballasts. The existence of these specimens in Michigan are the result of human intervention.” 


“Photogenic traces are camera-less photographic images made by placing natural forms onto light sensitive paper in the dark, exposing both to light, and processing the paper in photo chemicals. Natural ephemera including exoskeletons, snake skins, root systems, and the result of earthworm movement on the paper— things overlooked or hidden from view—are documented. This photographic method predates the camera and photograms served as scientific documents for botanists, such as British scientist Anna Atkins, in the 1800s. Photograms have also been used by modern and contemporary photographers to create images; the photographs are one of a kind, the detail rendered is astounding, and results can be unpredictable.” 


“In Deconstructed Panoramas I turn my attention to the landscape—in national parks or on display in botanical gardens where immersive environments elude a single image. Inspired by the visual technique of contemporary American photographer David Hilliard’s photo sets, I use individual photographs to direct the viewer’s attention to different parts of a scene.” 


“Our place as humans within the world God made and declared ‘good’ has been the driving force of my work for over twenty-five years."

“At Calvin, we are dedicated to the flourishing of God’s creation, and creation care is foundational to who we are and what we do. I situate my creative photographic production here as well. Visual art, and being an artist, contributes to creation care. Art can play a powerful role in raising awareness of environmental issues. Art helps us pay attention and gives us the opportunity to see the familiar in a new way. Art can motivate and inspire, offering hope for solutions. Art, especially art in a museum or gallery setting, can provide a space to be contemplative