Vivian Kim’s photo book Island Time chronicles coming-of-age on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i
Vivian Kim didn’t set foot on the island of Kaua’i until she was 19, yet she felt an instant and uncanny sense of attachment to this Hawaiian paradise. “It was so serendipitous right from the start,” she recalls. “It was a place that was new to me but felt so familiar. I felt immediately at home.”
She’d initially come to Kaua’i after signing up for an internship scheme, working with an organisation involved with the island’s community, and arranging sports camps for local children. This was to be the first of her many future-defining, significant visits to the island. “Back then, Kaua’i was like our playground and life was exhilarating. We were all young and adventurous. We would spend all our days playing outside like kids,” she explains. “Now, the island offers me peace, restoration, and reflection, constantly teaching me to slow down and appreciate what’s in front of me.”
It wasn‘t only the outstanding natural beauty of Kaua’i that Kim fell in love with. The New York-based photographer felt a powerful affinity with the people she met on the island. “Kaua’i is very family-oriented… but with an edge,” she tells Dazed in a conversation over email. “Because families look different on Kaua’i – it doesn’t just mean the family you grow up with. Family can mean the neighbours who bring you fruit, or the friends who’ve helped you grow through hardships, or the people you surf or train with, or the aunties or uncles who teach us their craft. Family doesn’t have to be perfect, and in many cases, they may be broken. But on such a small island, it’s hard to hide the brokenness, and I think that it allows you to inevitably let people in… so you build these true, honest relationships. People see you at your best, at your worst, and everything in between. And in my experience, people who care about you really show up for you.”
“Families look different on Kaua’i – it doesn’t just mean the family you grow up with” – Vivian Kim
In an attempt to preserve and chronicle the sense of magic conjured by Kaua’i, Kim has created Island Time – a photo book and passion project which brings together images mostly taken over the past year, alongside some of the first rolls of film she shot there ten years ago. Among the many images of island life, the photos document the Kaua’i’s beach-loving youth culture – surfing, horseriding, and coming of age in paradise against a backdrop of pink sunsets.
“I knew that if I were to create something on and of Kaua’i, it would have to be impactful and honour the culture and locals of the island,” she says. “Kaua’i is such a unique place. The natural beauty feels timeless. Maybe that’s why time feels slowed down. Surrounded by ridges that have formed over centuries, you’re constantly reminded of generations past.” She adds, “With that said, there’s a lot of newness coming in, and I wanted these images to freeze in time the people and essence that make the island special to me.”
The book also enabled the photographer to give back in some way to the island that’s provided for her in such abundance over the many years. Partnering with Ohanalei Gallery, all net proceeds of Island Time will be donated to Kaua‘i non-profit organisations.
Various narratives emerge from Island Time. It’s a place where old and new converge, an ancient landscape touched by modernity. Teenagers ride through the lush foliage on dirt bikes, parties unfold beneath the silhouettes of megalithic palm trees, and pick-ups congregate on beach-side roads.
“There’s definitely a back and forth between this timelessness and youthful energy that spans the pages,” Kim tells Dazed. “And we also see the stories of ancient crafts and modern hobbies, and how people’s lives fully revolve around each. Overall, everything is connected. The overarching themes are old and new, ancient and young, and connection.”
While the book depicts a Hawaiian paradise, there’s also a darker, sadder side to the story. Island Time documents what may be an endangered environment as new generations of islanders face an uncertain future, encroached upon by gentrification and development. “My local friends have watched their favourite spots go out of business, have lost their homes to people with more money, have seen the land they love be cleared out for more development, and more,” Kim says. “Personally, I’ve noticed that homes are being sold for astronomical prices. Some change is good, but it’s hard to see local friends priced out and forced out of the homes they grew up in.”
Kim‘s overriding vision of Kaua’i is of a special place, that makes evident the connection with joy and nature, rather than material things. “With every flower I pick, or every afternoon’s swim, the island reminds me to enjoy and embrace the little things.” There’s a sense of tranquillity that emanates from the pages; it advocates for slowness; for reevaluating our modern place of life. “I understand that not everyone is on Kaua’i, but I think that we can all relate to this sentiment. We can all take time to go for a walk, entertain a longer-than-usual conversation at the grocery store, look at the stars at night, spend time with family. It’s really the small moments that make up our life, so we should make sure they’re special.”
For a closer look, head to the gallery above.
Island Time by Vivian Kim is available here now.