Jeju Island is known for its traditionally matriarchal society, where a longstanding career has been that of haenyeo, or "sea women." The haenyeo harvest seafood by doing deep underwater diving without any breathing equipment to support them. Recently, photographer Hyun S. Kim displayed a series of photographs at the Manhattan Korean Cultural Service Gallery that captured some of the individual women who do this interesting and dangerous work.

The haenyeo have become icons of Jeju, training from a young age so that they can scour the sea floor using only flippers and a diving mask without any additional breathing equipment. Sadly, the haenyeo tradition is slowly dying, as the majority of them are over the age of 60, and younger female residents of Jeju are moving towards less-dangerous jobs at resorts. According to photographer Hyun S. Kim, only 7 haenyeo are under the age of 30, which inspired him to create the photography series. He explained,  "I am concerned thehaenyeo culture will die out in the next 20 to 30 years. For this reason, I want to share the haenyeo culture with as many people as possible.”

The photographer began the series in earnest four years ago, slowly getting to know the women and gaining their trust before he was able to photograph them. You can see his appreciation for the women themselves in the series, where he says, "I was interested in capturing the haenyeo as women, not simply viewing them as a part of the natural environment or their occupation.” Take a look at the beautiful photographs below:


I love how you really see the personality of these women shine through. Hyun S. Kim said of them, "For me, these women embody all the mothers and grandmothers of Korea. These women hold within them both a fragility and incredible strength.” His statement definitely seems true in the photographs.


In the Hong Sisters' new series Jeju Island Gatsby (aka Warm and Cozy), the Jeju setting includes a representation of the haenyeo with Kim Hee Jung's character, who is a diver on Jeju. You can see her with her fellow "sea women" in the trailer below:

Jeju Island Gatsby (aka Warm and Cozy) is coming exclusively to DramaFever tonight! Become a fan of the series HERE to receive new episode alerts.