All photos by Mijoo Kim. Used with Creative Commons permission.
How people all over the world make a living everyday remains one of the most fascinating topics that documentary photography explores and puts on the spotlight. The latest on our list of favorite documentary projects is The Mother of the Sea. Here, New York-based Korean photographer Mijoo Kim introduces us to the haenyo of the Korean province of Jeju and their unique, centuries-old tradition of freediving to make a living. If you’re looking for more outstanding works in the genre to get inspired with and learn from, we highly recommend checking out this series.
The Haenyo, which literally means “sea women” in Korean, free dive and hold their breaths for over two minutes to catch oysters, sea cucumbers, abalones, sea urchins, and squids. They go as deep as twenty meters without any diving equipment, making the job unbelievably perilous especially for women their age. Kim, however, stresses that they are anything but weak. As a saying in Korea goes, “Haenyos do the work of the dead in the land of the living.”
This series, our featured photographer says, is not only meant to be a portrait of these impressive women divers, but also to document her views on what they do.
“I wanted to express that what a difficult and physically demanding work they are doing. These women divers are carrying on a Korean legacy as having lifelong profession. Through this project I would like to share not only female divers’s beauty as women, but also their courage and their tenacity in facing difficulties during their lives.”
Indeed, we get a glimpse of what everyday life is like for these amazing women and the unbelievable way they keep the tradition alive. As a page from a feature story about the series pointed about, they represent a time when Jeju’s kitchens revolved around the haenyo and their perilous life out in the cold and treacherous waters.
Visit Mijoo Kim’s website and Behance portfolio to see the rest of her photography work.