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“I have always loved animals. From a very young age I was exposed to nature programs on television and became entranced by the wonder and diversity of the animal kingdom,” Marttila said. But there was one small issue. Marttila was allergic to most pets – cats included.

Thanks to allergies, he grew up with some unorthodox pets such as lizards, turtles, hedgehogs, and even a chicken.
Although he never outgrew his allergies, he’s built up a tolerance to the cats he and his girlfriend have, including three permanent additions to the family and six fosters. To manage his symptoms, he takes allergy pills and carries around an inhaler.

Marttila says he became interested in animal photography the first time he took pictures of his cat with a digital camera. “An incredibly unique quality of animals is that they are without pretension and are unapologetically themselves, always. The moment I was able to capture that essence through a lens was the moment I became hooked,” he said.

While pursuing a degree in neuroscience, he began honing his camera skills for fun. At first, it was just a hobby. After graduating from college, Marttila took a year to see if he could make it as a photographer.
He knew it would be tough.

He quickly amassed a following through social media, and through books like “Shop Cats of New York.” He trusted his creative process – and it paid off.

Transforming his hobby into a career “was a genuinely strange experience,” he said. He currently has more than 360,000 followers on Instagram.

Marttila came up with the “Cats on Catnip” concept about two years ago. He was inspired by a former roommate’s cat who would go wild for the green stuff.

Friends and strangers online got a kick out of the early catnip photos he took. “Out of all the photos I used to take, the catnip photos always evoked the most responses out of people in person and on the internet,” he said.

So he decided to photograph dozens of cats and their hilarious reactions to catnip. He initially envisioned the project as a photo gallery rather than a book.

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