Let’s be honest, most people’s vacation photos bore us to death. You’ve got the typical toes-in-the-sand shot, someone pretending to prop up the leaning tower of Pisa, and somebody goosing Mickey Mouse. Luckily, you won’t find any of that in Jennifer Ervin’s getaway pics on view at her solo show This Side of Summer, opening Jan. 16 at Jericho Advisors.
Taken with a 1963 Polaroid Land 100 camera, the nostalgic images highlight family trips to their summer cabin, Ark Lodge, on the Pee Dee River. Marked by towering pines and swampy marshland, the shots resemble scenes from The Swiss Family Robinson, where kids lose themselves in the great outdoors.
The series was inspired by the trips Ervin took to the lodge with her family last summer. Two hours outside of Charleston, the cabin and surrounding acres have been in her husband’s family since the 1940s, and little has changed since then.
“Basically when you go down there, time just stands still,” Ervin says. “It’s a magical place. There are not many places like it anymore. It’s real wild and my kids love it. They kind of open up and they’re just free.”
In an attempt to get away from digital photography and back to film, Ervin decided the lodge retreats were the perfect time to try out the Land 100 camera, which takes 4×5-inch Polaroids. With its accordion lens and outdated equipment, Ervin says the camera can be quirky to use, and it doesn’t always work. But when it does, the results are quite different than with a digital camera.
“With this camera, what you see is not necessarily what you get,” she says. “It adds a whole different layer to the image and to me it feels more poetic, and I gravitate toward that. As an artist, that’s what I’m looking for: something poetic, something mysterious, something that’s truthful. But what kind of truth? That’s up to you.”
The shots Ervin captured at the lodge are mostly of her three daughters — an 8-year-old and 6-year-old twins — with found objects from around the property. One photo shows her daughter holding a stuffed miniature alligator and another with a wren’s nest that was found inside the family’s kayak. Finding scenes to photograph was a collaborative effort with her kids, Ervin says.
“My kids are used to being photographed. They’ve had a camera in their face since they were born,” she says. “I don’t like to dictate a lot. I’m definitely more of an observer, and a lot of it is just them being kids. But I work with them because you have to keep the models happy. When they have ideas, we work into it. Along the way, that line got blurred between fiction and nonfiction.”
By the middle of the summer, her oldest was coming up with ideas for shots of her own, Ervin says. For “The River’s Arch,” in which Ervin’s husband is holding their 8-year-old over his head out of the water in the river, Ervin says it was all their daughter’s idea.
“They know we’re making art, which makes me proud as a mom and an artist,” she says. “That moment when she collaborated with me, that’s the first time she’s told me what she wanted to do. I knew we had crossed a special line together. They were my co-conspirators and they were just instrumental in this project.”
Although Ervin knows the stories behind each individual picture, she says she’s hoping the mystery will add a level of uncertainty to each piece within the exhibit.
“The images that I chose for this show are the ones that you have to fill in the blanks,” she says. “It’s not straightforward. You don’t know what’s happening. You have to figure out what it is. I want there to be a mysterious element to them.”
The black-and-white Polaroids invite reflection and, undoubtedly, a longing for summer and the great outdoors. But at the end of the day, they are still vacation photos, and Ervin says she’s glad to just have the memories.
“A lot of families play board games together, but we do art projects and photo projects,” she says. “This was a really special project for me because we all worked together.”