So often outdoor photography consists of beautiful landscapes, usually with a lone figure somewhere "out there," or a person participating in some kind of action. Maybe there are a portrait here and there. Looking at Instagram, it can feel a bit one-note. But look beyond the (collapsing?) walls of social media, and you can find examples of more complex work. One is a new book called Island Time, in which photographer Vivian Kim aims to turn the traditional snapshot of surf culture and island life into an urban-esque body of work highlighting the people and culture of Kaua'i.
Composed of over 230 film photos, Island Time captures a unique beauty in motion, showcasing Kaua'i's youthful energy. "I was drawn to create something special for and about the island," Kim shares with Field Mag about her new book project. "I wanted it to be thoughtful and intentional, not just a quick campaign."
Born and raised in southern California, Kim first visited the Hawaiian island at age 19 and over the years returned annually, sometimes for months at a time. As she began her journey as a photographer, her connection with Kaua'i grew and deepened. Now based between Los Angeles and New York with a focus on motion work and shooting fashion, lifestyle, and youth culture, her varied experiences have influenced how she shot the photographs for the book.
"I was drawn to create something special for and about the island... to be thoughtful and intentional, not quick."
When asked about her intention in creating Island Time, Kim expresses how intimate the experience of capturing people's lives on Kaua'i was. Instead of just snapping away photos, she tries to be purposeful about the story being told. "My lens is powerful—it can either feel exploitative or honorable. I want to work in a way that ensures that I honor and uplift these stories. I got to bring the eye that I have developed from working in fashion and being out in the streets of New York; I was able to bring my urban perspective to Kaua'i in a unique way that doesn’t get represented."
When shooting, Kim would change cameras depending on what she was trying to capture. Rotating between a medium format Yashica twin lens reflex, Mamiya RZ67, a Canon Super 8, and four different film stocks, the resulting images show a diversity of style. "It all came down to size, functionality, and what terrain I was going to be in." One day, for instance, photographing boys on dirt bikes turned into following them on a quad bike and hiking through the brush.
In creating the book, Kim was constantly reminded of the impact Kaua'i has on the world—especially when it comes to water. Kim is a surfer herself, and highlights figures that have shaped surf culture today. The island is rapidly changing and experiencing a time of massive flux, suffering from both gentrification and climate change. The natural landscape and local businesses are both being lost.
"It is special to remember that there is this Hawaiian culture and it is important to preserve it. We need to tread lightly and intentionally when working with locals." For Kim, Island Time is a physical and concrete way to tell the visual stories of the people and ensure they are being recorded, conserved, and honored.
Ultimately, Kim's hope is that Island Time allows the stories and the faces of the people that she photographs to break into the art world. "I want Island Time to be able to sit with these other art books that are maybe more modern and edgy."
She produced the book in collaboration with local partners like Ohanalei Gallery. "They were my creative partners and helped in the photo shoots. They are doing on Kaua'i what I hope to do with the book by connecting high-end art to the island." Kim also worked closely with graphic designers Brett Dalzell and Sophia Marinelli, who created the book's layout and brand identity and contributed to the modern and urban style that it has.