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Hyung S. Kim

"Feminist quiz question of the day: Where in the world has a society existed since the 17th century in which women do all the work and the men take care of home and childcare? Google “haenyeo divers” and you’ll find that just such an impressive cultural economy exists in the Jeju coastal area of South Korea, where the “Amazons of Asia” dive for valuable shellfish without breathing apparatuses well into their eighties."
Sarah Mower - vogue.com

 

The inspiration for Hyung S. Kim’s series of portraits stems from a visit to Jeju Island in 2012, where he was captivated by the haenyeo and the power, resilience and unique physical performance used in their daily lives.

The Haenyeo are a diving community of fisher women who with hold a tradition that is on the wane. With only a few working professionally, Jeju residence now choose to seek work in cities. This historic form of free diving has achieved UNESCO World Heritage status as an Ephemeral Culture, but has little chance of existing into the second half of the century.

He spent many years getting to know this tight-knit community before approaching them with the idea for a photographic project. The result are incredible portraits of women, tired and cold after a difficult day of diving, yet still with a self assured strength. Their wetsuits are decorated with embroidered fabric and the weighted belts that prevent buoyance, which become a symbol of prestige as indication of the skill and ability to remain submerged. Most Haenyeo will continue diving into advancing years, waiting for the day when they “breath underwater”, a euphemism for the uncontrollable gasp for air that will inevitably end their life.

 

Choosing to photograph them in a most natural state, showing the divers emerging from the sea, exhausted and wet after the long hours spent diving. The photographs are intended to celebrate the haenyeo, not as relics, nor trophies, but as beautiful and strong portraits of working people.

Hyung S. Kim is a commercial photographer whose work has featured in international publications such as The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal and The Korea Times.

 

Most often associated with the iconic portraits of The Haenyeo, these images of female sea divers, have been exhibited globally including Göteborg Maritime Museum, Korean Cultural Centers Beijing and The National Maritime Museum London. The Haenyeo photographs were the inspiration for acclaimed English fashion design duo Thorton Bregazzi, in their A/W 2018 Collection.

Hyung S. Kim lives and works in Seoul.

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