Jen Ervin

Jen Ervin

Jen Ervin

The Arc

7 x 9 inches
96 pages
Perfect Bound
Edition of 200
Published by Aint–Bad


From the artist:

Within these pages, lies my view of the world – slivers of its truth, beauty, impermanence, and mystery – as seen through the lens of a vintage Polaroid Land Camera.

I never imagined this series would endure as long as it did. Over time it revealed a life of its own. There was much to learn on my end. The more I became practiced in the art of polaroid, the more I found the medium to be relatable to the human condition, imperfect and changeable. What inspired me to continue so long, was a personal revelation – with every peel of this (now obscure) pack-film, I removed a layer of covering over my vulnerable, summer heart.

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Book review by Marissa Iamartino |

The word ‘arc’ transcends language. The three letter term slips from my mouth and loses it’s intended direction, instead, dissipating into the air as particles, furiously scattering into a number of different spaces. An arc/ark, from Latin arca, can refer to a chest or box, it can be a section of a circumference, a trajectory with a beginning and an end, an arcsecond or arcminute - measurements in astronomy, or even refer to the big, giant boat, built by Noah to save his family, a story found both in the Bible and the Quran. For Jen Ervin specifically, she has Ark Lodge: her family’s cabin in the woods of South Carolina, and in her words, “a place where time stands still”.

Throughout Ervin’s book “The Arc”, we face small images, sometimes with fuzzy, direct positive-peeled edges, surrounded by the empty white space of the book’s pages. These images, dark like depths of water, sink me into their quiet details whilst emanating light and soft energy. I see a twisting tree, bubbles in air, delicate vines, and surfaces of water. The pictures act as portals of time and space, sucking me through their borders, and into their ethereal slowness. It’s as if the images have been breathed in hot breath on the glass of a window, and have decided to never leave.


Two simple, numbered poems accompany the photographs, humble in their all-lowercase type and minimal punctuation. Their rhythm provides a backdrop for the book, like softly whining crickets, and words like ‘pollen’, ‘brackish’,  ‘pulling’, and ‘velvet toes’ offer me tiny, visceral moments that support my connection to the natural imagery, especially to water. The water is the aortic vein to this work – it provides life and energy to almost all of the subjects depicted. We see recurring images of young people floating in water, hovering between submersion and emergence. It almost feels like they might live there, in limbo, existing as young girls forever. I think of Sally Man’s “Immediate Family” in direct relation – images that force me to consider ideas about childhood, innocence, human nature, and the dramatization of daily life. I would argue, however, that this work seems to exert less control, less underlying angst or critique. It finds a much quieter strength in allowing subjects to just ‘be’.

The work also provoked me to think about water in relation to religion. In Taoism, the river is the way, but one may not always be aware of its direction; or in Catholic and Christian practices, people are baptized in water, symbolizing admission into the church, purification, or even rebirth. Flannery O’Connor’s story “The River” comes to mind, where a young boy and his babysitter go to ‘a Christian healing on the river’, and an inconceivable drama evolves. I can’t help but romanticize the idea that Jen Ervin’s work falls directly in line with that of O’Connor and Mann. To an outsider, specifically a New Englander like myself, I see three women elaborating on the lures of The South: its natural wonders, haunting histories, youthful people, and peculiar constructs.


The Arc’s focus on young girls and the simple joys of summer unfold as a beautiful, non-linear narrative. This work feels eternal, like it could have been made a hundred years ago, and will continue to be made a hundred years in the future. It is a fragment of a circumference, a red-painted section on a spinning bike wheel – only hitting pavement every time the South Carolina woods explodes into summer.

I am currently reading “Flights” by Olga Tokarczuk, and in the beginning, when reminiscing on a childhood fascination with a particular river, she says:

“Standing there on the embankment, staring into the current, I realized that – in spite of all the risks involved – a thing in motion will always be better than a thing at rest: that change will always be a nobler thing than permanence: that that which is static will degenerate and decay, turn to ash, while that which is in motion will be able to last for all eternity.”

I think about Ark Lodge, in its third generation of life, and in turn, it’s third generation of providing shelter to a family. Jen Ervin’s understanding that the cabin has evaded modernization is, yes, a bit of a miracle. But, the cabin itself, in its permanent resting place, will undeniably decay - while the family it protects and the rivers that protect it, will undoubtedly continue their movement.

Grab a copy of the book here

Alexis Pike

Alexis Pike

Aaron Rothman

Aaron Rothman

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