Soft milky light seeps through trees, bubbles roll across ponds, and children immerse themselves in the nature surrounding them. The world presented in Jen Ervin’s photographs show a dreamy escape, removed from society. But for her it’s simply the place her family, past and present, have marked their time and legacy.
Originally a student of painting and design, Ervin’s transition into photography began with the birth of her children. “The camera was a way for me to get to know who my children were and figure out what this new role of motherhood was,” Ervin tells TIME. “It was a challenge—it was joyful!—but it was extremely hard. As an artist you need to have time for yourself, you need to create, and I wasn’t sure how to do that until I started picking up the camera.”
Deep in the woods of South Carolina stands Ervin’s cabin, where she’s been working on her series The Arc of Summer since 2012. On trips with her family, Ervin photographs her children and their interactions with the landscape. Over the years, she came to see how the work had grown from just a desire to document her family. “It started as a personal project, but as it went on I really wanted to pay homage to our family members who came before us and to build on the stories they left us.”
Ervin’s use of polaroid film in her series is deliberate, and adds to the timeless quality of her photographs. Small in size, at 3.25 by 4.25 inches, each image becomes an instant, one-of-a-kind print. “When creating polaroids, the images instantly become objects of experience,” she says. “They are intimate, hold the most subtle of details, and are vulnerable—like memories.” For Ervin, the polaroid is the perfect medium to get across her ideas of family, memory, and legacy.
As her children grow and their trips to the cabin become less frequent, Ervin understands the preciousness of her photographs and how these opportunities may not always be there. Describing her hopes for the future of her work, Ervin explains “I would love to have the privilege to photograph my children as an old woman in my nineties. I would love to photograph them in the same river when we’ll all older. That’s my dream.”
Jen Ervin is a photographer based in Charleston, South Carolina. Her work will be featured in an exhibition at the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colorado from October 7th-29th. Follow her on Instagram.
Tara Johnson, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME.