Passion Passport recently teamed with Explore Minnesota to give Emily Hinchcliff a chance to visit the state for her first time. Why Minnesota? She wanted a chance to reconnect with a friend she’d first met through Instagram, then briefly spent time with at a photo conference. Here, she tells us about all that she discovered in the home of more than 10,000 lakes.

Was Minnesota what you were expecting?

A year or two ago, I knew next to nothing about this state. I wasn’t yet aware of its bicycle-friendly cities, plentiful lakes, charming small towns, and seas of gold-tipped cornfields. After stumbling upon a community of Instagrammers from the area, I began to see the exceptional magic of Minnesota through their eyes and knew it was a place I wanted to experience for myself.

The beauty of Minnesota comes in many shapes: a foggy sunrise on the water, dynamic symmetry found in the architecture and bridges of Minneapolis, a glowing amber room overlooking the city, playful interactive art pieces at a sculpture park, stunning vistas of the night sky, and a lake so vast I was thoroughly convinced it was an ocean.

I had a feeling I would be impressed by the natural splendor that Minnesota holds, and that was definitely the case.

What was the draw to visit the Land of 10,000 Lakes? 

In February of 2015, I traveled to Columbus, Ohio to attend the MobilePhotoNow exhibition, curated and presented by JJCommunity and the Columbus Museum of Art. Minneapolis-based photographer Jill Emmer, who I had become friends with on Instagram, was the only person I knew would be attending. When I spotted her at the reception, we were hugging and squealing within an instant, and the four days I had booked to be in Columbus suddenly felt too short.

At the end of that trip, after shooting and forging friendships with inspiring creatives from all different locations, I felt more inspired to make images and connect than I have in years.

As we said our goodbyes, Jill and I talked about coming to visit her in Minneapolis in the summer, even mentioning that August would be the best month for her. A few months later, I found myself entering a photo contest to win a trip to Minnesota of all places… in August. I suppose it was meant to be!


Did you travel with anyone during your trip? Who, and what was that like? 

My mother, who lovingly nudged me into taking my first photography course in high school, was the person I immediately knew I’d be inviting when I heard the exciting news I had won the contest. We’ve ventured together over the years, hitting spots such as India, Indonesia, and Guatemala, and share the same rhythm when it comes to traveling. She gets it when I want to stop every few minutes to capture the light on someone’s face or a breathtaking view, as she sees in the same way and enjoys making those stops as well.

We love shooting together and often use one another as a subject.  This trip was no different, and we spent the first five days traversing the southern region of the state and its gloriously beautiful cornfields and sweet small towns.

For the last five days, my friend Jill joined me for a picturesque road trip to the North Shore area. We loaded the trunk of my rental car with more props than you could imagine and hit the road. There were giddy smiles on our faces as the craggy shoreline of Lake Superior first came into view. Every sweet cabin, field of flowers, rocky jetty, and cool red hotel door we passed along the way caught our eye, quickly turning our four-hour drive into six.

Jill and I made images from morning ’til night, collaborating and creating and laughing like crazy while digging through dozens of props. I can’t think of a better way to spend a few days!

In such a varied state, how did you decide which places you’d like to visit over your 10-day stay?

After seeing countless amazing images through my MN friends on Instagram and seeking suggestions from Jill, I had a few places that were must-sees on my list. The top contenders included 43-acre Franconia Sculpture Park near Minneapolis, vast Lake Superior in the North Shore, and charming small towns in the southern part of the state where empty roads gave way to unobstructed big-sky views and endless photo opportunities.

I recall being on the phone with Jill while planning my visit and asking if there were any lakes near her house to photograph. As she laughed, I zoomed out on my Google Maps search and saw blue dots in varying sizes peppering the entire state. There certainly was no shortage.

You documented your whole journey. Was that a challenge with so much on the itinerary? 

Travel and photography are certainly my two biggest passions, but sometimes my shooting brain wants to turn off and let my eyes simply get lost in a lake’s horizon line for a while instead of my iPhone screen. Ten very full days of driving between cities and stopping at every cornfield, Lake Superior vista, and colorful portrait backdrop, all while editing images and composing captions in real time, was a bit challenging and exhausting in a good way.

I was left a bit fried and it wasn’t a typical relaxing vacation, but both my camera roll and heart were full from the warm connections I made with so many inspiring people. I truly loved the experience.


Did you have any experiences that stood out more than others on your trip?

Nothing beats a word of mouth recommendation from a kind stranger that turns out to be one of the most idyllic evenings you’ve had in a long time.

My mother and I struck up a conversation with a shopkeeper in the small town of Lanesboro, and he was kind enough to share a great idea for two out-of-towners in need of a vegetarian-friendly dinner.

After driving for about 20 minutes over gentle rolling hills alongside miles of cornfields and quilted patterns of farmland (with multiple stops for photos, of course), we passed through tiny Wykoff and came upon a hand-painted sign for Dreamacres Farm, flanked by colorful pots of flowers. We pulled onto the dirt road, first passing the “Inconvenience Store” selling handmade wares, and ending up at a wide grassy opening surrounded by trees with a handful of rustic structures, and immediately knew we were just where we should be.

Every Friday evening during the summer months, this off-the-grid organic farm and home of the Dreamery Rural Arts Initiative welcomes visitors for made-to-order wood-fired pizzas and stunning golden-hour views.

Shortly after we arrived, the eight or so picnic tables that were scattered about the grassy property quickly filled up, and children of all ages were laughing and playing on the hillside. Once we tasted the garden fresh pizza, experienced the genuine warmth of everyone we met, and saw the distant bluffs glowing in the setting sunlight, we knew exactly why this dreamy place draws a crowd.

Earlier you talked a bit a about the Instagram Community in Minnesota. How did you get involved in that? 

I’ve become friends with many vibrant and inspiring members of the very active Instagram community in Minnesota. Meeting Jill and Eric in person in Columbus, Ohio was just the beginning of a slew of new friendships.

One of the things that initially drew me into Jill’s images is a bright and playful rainbow umbrella. It kept whimsically popping up in her photos and other people’s as well, as she has been sending her umbrellas to Instagrammers around the world to share in her #shineonyoucrayumbrella project.

I was excited when she messaged me and a few other Philadelphia photographers to say she was sending one our way. Magically, it got passed onto someone else locally who happened to ask me to model for her with the umbrella, not knowing that Jill was my friend and that I too was planning to make some images. I love the connections that come into play with projects like this, and how Instagram has brought so many people together.