Making My Way to the Shore explores Los Angeles based photographer, Jenny Kim's life as a woman, without children, at the end of her fertile years. The project which began in 2019 and is still an ongoing project, offers the audience a look into the idea and pressures of motherhood. "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."
I came across this portrait while looking through old family photos. My grandmother, mother and aunt were all trying to figure out if it was me or another one of my cousins. There was no definite answer.
Hey Jenny, can you share with us a little about yourself? I grew up in a small suburb of Los Angeles. I was a quiet kid, usually observing before joining in any group activity. That quiet part of me is what I value as a photographer. I’m currently based in Los Angeles and always thinking about my next trip.
How did your journey with photography begin? My mom exposed me to the arts from a young age and ever since I’ve been interested in all forms of art. I loved taking snapshots growing up but never considered photography as a career. My fascination with how people think and react led me to study psychology in college. During my senior year I took an intro to photography class that engaged me in a way that nothing else had before. After graduating with my psychology degree I decided to
change course and study photography. It’s been almost twenty years since I graduated with my BA in photography and I received my master’s degree in photography in 2020. Everything from my college studies to the various freelance photography jobs that I’ve had has informed how I work today.
The title ‘Making My Way to the Shore’ seems to point to a journey of either going back to the beginning or that of acceptance. Why and how did you come up with the title? The title stemmed from Sheila Heti’s book, Motherhood, where the narrator is grappling with the decision to have a child. Heti writes about how you could still be considered young if you began a career in literature at forty. But in everything else you were considered old. The narrator continues to say how everyone else is far off from the shore, but she was still making her way to the shore. I was about the same age when I read this book and felt like it
was written for me. I was in a space where time wasn’t available to me anymore. For me, it started out about the journey and as time went on it also became about acceptance. I was on a journey to understand myself and how I fit in to my family line. Life is a continuum and I had to accept that mine was valuable even if I did not have a child.
What’s your favourite image from this series and why? One of the images that holds the most meaning to me is the portrait of my mother. It was the first time I felt like I could see her aging. My mom is such a vibrant person that aging never seemed to touch her. I couldn’t help but see myself aging reflected in her. Inevitably I began to think about mortality and what the feeling of living life without a mother would be like.
What were some of the challenges you faced during the making of this project? The biggest challenge for me was sharing so much of my personal life. I’m a very private person in general. I was in grad school photographing other women trying to convey what I was feeling. The process of admitting what I was trying to say through my photographs pushed me to share very intimate moments. It became clear that in order to deal with the issues I was having around the potential for motherhood, I would have to share the photographs I was making of my life.
Self-portrait with my partner Ian.
Post-Myomectomy - I opted to have a surgery to remove fibroids from my uterus. Even though I was single and unsure about my future at that time I knew I had to have this surgery if I wanted a chance to carry naturally. Ironically, the incision and remaining scar is the same as if I had had a c-section.
During the making of this project, what was your thought on motherhood? I used to worry that I wouldn’t be able to move on if I didn’t have a child even though I know that my life will be complete whether I do or not. I don’t think there’s any other life experience that can push you to your limits and then past them like motherhood can. While I was working on this project I thought about the chaos, joy, fear and exhaustion that mothers live in and through. Motherhood, to me, is unrelenting and unbelievably fulfilling.
This project is a very personal one for you. In fact, the struggle of motherhood is very underrepresented in both photography and media. What are your hopes for other women going through the same experience as you? My hope is that women talk more openly about their feelings and what they are going through. I was very open amongst my friends about what my husband and I were dealing with throughout this entire process of trying to have a family. It has been a process like nothing else I’ve had to deal with in my life. My emotions were constantly on the surface. I can’t imagine having to go through it without the support of people close to me. I think if we share our experiences the harsh realities and feelings of anxiety can be tempered. The complexity surrounding having children or remaining childfree needs to be met with acceptance because neither path is easy.
Who are some photographers whose work speaks to you? Rineke Dijkstra’s work has always engaged me. I’m fascinated by how time evolves throughout her portraits. Her work makes me think about the differences and similarities we all have with one another. As I was starting to work on Making My Way to the Shore, I was turned on to Geert Goiris’ work. There’s a haunting quality to his images that piques my curiosity anytime I look at his work. Lately, Ying Ang’s The Quickening and Katherine Longly’s Hernie & Plume are books that I find inspiring. The visceral storytelling in both projects show the struggle and love that the deepest relationships bring out in our lives. Additionally, both books are thoughtfully designed and beautifully made.
What are you up to these days? I’m putting most of my focus on a making this project into a book. I’ve continued to photograph my family and my life that is something I don’t foresee stopping whether I share those photos publicly or not. I feel very lucky to have a family that not only supports my work but also has allowed me to continually photograph them over the years.
My mother paying her respects at her father's grave.