Ones to Watch 2021: Jenny Kim

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Each year, British Journal of Photography presents its Ones To Watch – a selection of 20 emerging image-makers, chosen from a list of nearly 450 nominations. Collectively, they provide a window into where photography is heading, at least in the eyes of the curators, editors, agents, festival producers and photographers we invited to nominate. Throughout the next few weeks, we will be sharing profiles of the 20 photographers, originally published in the latest issue of BJP, delivered direct with an 1854 Subscription

Kim confronts her personal struggles with conceiving and infertility through intimate and honest photographs

Through a constellation of tender moments and sentimental scenes, Jenny Kim’s project Making My Way to the Shore explores her life as a woman, without children, at the end of her fertile years. “I began the project during grad school in 2019, a few months before turning 40,” she says. “The window to my childbearing years rapidly closing gave me a newfound urgency to examine the cyclical nature of life and my family lineage, especially my maternal line. As my dream of motherhood turned into a reality of infertility and anxiety, the pressure mounted every month that I couldn’t get pregnant. I wondered if the void of missing out on the intricate life experience of being a mother could ever be filled. That wonder was a touchstone that guided me throughout the project.”

Making My Way to the Shore traces an intensely personal journey through softly lit portraits and landscapes of particular significance. Her partner, family members and, perhaps most importantly, Kim herself all feature throughout. Making self-portraits was, she says, a difficult endeavour, but a crucial step in the process nonetheless. “Initially, I couldn’t even talk about the range of emotions I was having, because struggling to conceive and then dealing with infertility are traumatising life events for a woman. In time though I realised that I wasn’t going to deal with any of it if I didn’t look inside myself. Negotiating the space between what my life might have been like as a mother, and uncertainty about whether having my own family was possible, made it clear that I should include myself in the photographs. My experience was specific but not uncommon and ultimately I couldn’t let everyone else I photographed do the work for me.”

From the series The Shore © Jenny Kim.
From the series The Shore © Jenny Kim.

Born in 1978 to South Korean immigrant parents, Kim grew up in LA. She was a creative, curious child and her fascination with people and how we think led her to pursue a degree in social psychology at the University of California Irvine. Later, she took an introductory course in photography and was hooked. She went on to study for an MA in photography at Brooks Institute and it was there, she says, that she learned “what it truly meant to be vulnerable and honest about what I wanted to express through photographs”.

Photographer and educator Jörg Colberg, who nominated Kim for Ones to Watch, echoes these words. “Pairing reserved observations with candid diaristic sketches that reveal the visceral reality of life, Kim’s work shows what we could all gain if we allowed ourselves to be as honest with what we’re facing as she was,” he says.

Kim is working on a dummy book of Making My Way to the Shore and has also started a new project about femicide, continuing her line of interest in visualising women’s issues. “Endless topics stem from the complexity of womanhood that I continually find fascinating and important to talk about,” she says. “Reflecting on my psychological landscape within these themes has been an integral thread throughout my work.”

Joanna Cresswell

Joanna L. Cresswell is a writer and editor based in Brighton. She has written on photography and culture for over 40 international magazines and journals, and held positions as editor for organisations including The Photographers' Gallery, Unseen Amsterdam and Self Publish, Be Happy. She recently completed an MA in comparative literature and criticism at Goldsmiths College, University of London