Korea’s Mermaids

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Korea’s Mermaids

Monday April 20, 2015 Written by Ronan

In this striking photo series, photographer Hyung S. Kim captures the superhero-like freediving fisherwomen of Jeju Island, Korea. Known as Haenyeo, or 'Sea Women', the divers are renowned for their incredible skill at harvesting sea creatures without the use of breathing apparatus, diving up to 20 metres and staying underwater for long stretches. 

The earliest recording of the aquatic hunter-gatherers dates back to 1105, and archeological finds indicate they may even date back to prehistoric times. But it's a fading tradition, with few of the younger generation committing to the demanding profession, training for which begins at around eight years old and reaches expert level at 18. Over 85 per cent of the remaining Haeneyo are believed to be aged over 60.

Kim began the project in 2012, and his photos are stark, humane portraits of the divers' wrinkled, weathered faces, steely in their determination and varying in expression from good-natured to irritation (presumably with Kim and his camera).

An exhibition of the work is currently on show at Korean Cultural Service in New York, but if you can't afford the plane ticket, you can find lots of information and download the publication on their site.