Before I transitioned to photography, I was a professional triathlete for 19 years. I had started doing Ultra Trail races, and while preparing for one such race in Jeju Island, South Korea, I discovered the Haenyeo women divers.
The Haenyeo were the subject of my first photography exhibition in Singapore in November 2017, which garnered half a million Singapore dollars’ worth in media coverage in Singapore papers and other media outlets, becoming my most acclaimed body of work. The exhibition was sponsored by Epson and Sproud, with the support of the Singapore Committee for UN Women, Singapore National Commission for UNESCO and the Embassy of The Republic of Korea.
In the South Korean province of Jeju, diving is a tradition that can be traced back as far as 434 A.D. and originally dominated by men. By the 17th century, diving became the profession that was held by women exclusively as men went out to fish or row warships. Using no breathing equipment – only flippers and goggles – the women sweep the sea floor for abalones, conches, and octopuses. Since then, women divers, also known as Haenyeo or ‘sea women’ gradually became associated with this tradition. In November 2016, the Haenyeo from Jeju Island, South Korea were inscribed in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. These women dive into waters as deep as twenty meters to catch fresh seafood from the depths of the ocean. Equipped with only a lead-weighted vest and goggles, the Haenyeo make dozens of dives a day while holding their breath for slightly more than three minutes at a time.
Diving as a Haenyeo is no mean feat, for the work is often backbreaking and dangerous due to the grueling nature of the work. The Haenyeo portray a rich tradition that is slowly being eroded. Through mastering the craft over the years, many of the Haenyeo have replaced their husbands as the breadwinners of their household. I set out to document these Haenyeo women who have dedicated their lives to this craft. Comfortable on both land and sea, I pushed past the natural elements as I sought to travel the untrodden paths where few photographers have gone before, travelling to depths of up to 30m to capture the Haenyeo in their element. I travelled to Jeju three times in total, each time staying there for a couple of weeks, to get the best possible shots of the Haenyeo.
In every photograph that I shot, I tried to encapsulate the essence of the Haenyeo. Even in the process of shooting, I opted to freedive just like them. Some of the Haenyeo are portrayed in monotone to help the audience feel emotions similar to what the Haenyeo often go through. Through these photographs, I want to help the audience experience and appreciate these women for they might be the last generation of the Haenyeo.The most powerful imagery from the series is that of the close-up shots of the Haenyeo – their faces framed by goggles, wrinkled from being battered by the stormy waves and having weathered various hardships across the years. Through this series of photographs on the Haenyeo, I hope to share with you the values of dedication, grit and resilience in the face of adversity that the Haenyeo have come to represent.
About Jose Jeuland
Jose Jeuland is a professional photographer who is an ambassador for FUJIFILM. Photography is one of his many passions in life – from the sprawling green fields of his native Brittany in France to the dense snarl of Colombo’s back alleys, Jose’s trips are never complete without his trusted camera as his companion. Jose started off as a professional triathlete and through his travels made a smooth transition into photography. Specialising in documentaries, street photography and portraiture, as well as nature and wildlife photography, some of his work has been featured in media titles as diverse as The New York Times Style Magazine, Spiegel, Lonely Planet, Asian Geographic and The Straits Times. He has also done radio interviews for his work with 91.3 FM in Singapore. A firm believer of hard work through dedication, Jose approaches his passion for photography with the same grit – capturing life’s fleeting moments and expressions through the lens of perseverance. As a triathlete, while preparing for a race in Jeju Island, South Korea, Jose discovered the Haenyeo women divers, and dived to depths of up to 30 metres to capture the Haenyeo in their element. Comfortable on both land and sea, Jose pushed past the natural elements as he seeks to travel the untrodden paths where few photographers have gone before. The Haenyeo were the subject of his first photography exhibition in Singapore in November, which garnered half a million Singapore dollars’ worth in media coverage in Singapore papers and other media outlets, becoming his most acclaimed body of work. [Official Website]
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