Alain Schroeder, a Belgian photojournalist, says that for his Grandma Divers series, photographed on Jeju Island off the coast of South Korea, he decided to shoot portraits in front of a black cloth background. “The idea—black on black—was to block out all distractions,” he explains. “In the case of the Haenyeo, or women of the sea who free dive off the black shores of Jeju harvesting delicacies from the sea, it was particularly effective for emphasizing their physical features and typical gestures.”
Wearing thin rubber suits and old fashioned goggles, this aging group of women, says Schroeder, are celebrated as a national treasure and inscribed on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The tradition, though, is slowly fading as fewer women choose this extremely hazardous profession. Today, the majority of Haenyeo are over the age of 50 and many are well over 70.
[Read: How Photographers Make Good Portraits in Lousy Settings]
© Alain Schroeder
Shown here, Soon-ja Hong of Seongsan comes out of the water holding an octopus. She explains to Schroeder that she and her fellow Haenyeo set traps to catch octopuses which come in a variety of shapes and sizes. On this day, she was lucky to catch this large specimen. At 69, she is at the peak of her career but it has taken her many years to build up her endurance and fine-tune the hunting techniques that enable her to dive most efficiently.
Says Schroeder, whose image of Soon-ja Hong was the recent B/W category winner of The Portrait Project competition by the Lucie Foundation: “I knew from previous experiences with the Haenyeo that it would be difficult to convince them to come and pose in front of my set, so I hired a fixer who was able to establish contact and ask them to simply do what they normally do; adjust their wetsuits, weight belts and masks, remove equipment, rinse off or simply show off their catch. Part of his task was to ask basic questions like name, age, where they were from, how long they’ve been diving, etc. The distraction put them at ease for a few seconds in front of the camera.”
Gagan Dhiman, a Sacramento, California, wedding photographer, points to this image, taken at Point Reyes Light House in Marin County, as one of his all time favorites.
© Gagan Dhiman
“This is a post-wedding shoot; the couple, Jennifer and Matt, wanted to spend some time in Point Reyes so we drove there the day after their ceremony,” Dhiman explains. “It’s such a beautiful location but I actually didn’t think anything of this particular spot when we walked through it. It was when we were walking back that I noticed the arch and the light between the trees. I had Jennifer lead Matt as it felt right to have such a strong image of a woman who is strong and leading her man, and a man who sees her as equal to let her lead. The dramatic light and the fog rolling in made the image even more impactful.”
Dominique Jean-Marie, also known as Kano Kano Photography, is a photographer living in Montreal. Recently a finalist in The Portrait Project competition by the Lucie Foundation for “Le Petit Prince” from a series focusing on identity and legacy.
© Dominique Jean-Marie/Kano Kano Photography
“Like all parents, I have high expectations and high hopes for my boys,” she explains. “My relationship with them is defined by the emotion they provoke in me through this deep love and this crippling anxiety about their future. This photo is from a series started in 2019 that I called “Blood and Roots” and addresses the themes of love, inheritance, and the security that I want as well as all the parents of this land for my black boys whom I raise like kings.”
The photographer chose a simple black backdrop and used an old Profoto flash that a great friend gave her years ago. “I thank my friend for the flash and also my brave nephew, my subject in Le Petit Prince, who said, ‘let’s go for this ‘créative aunty.’”
Artistrie Co.‘s Ashley Biess, a Chicago-based wedding photographer, says that the day after a Chicago snowstorm, she and her clients ventured out to the lakefront with a bottle of champagne in tow.
“Standing on top of nearly a foot of snow and ice, it almost felt like we were standing on a glacier instead of the usual lakefront path,” she describes. “The snowy shore, the icy lake and the unbeatable sunset lead to some truly one of a kind photos.”
Biess took two different angles of this shot and says the magic happened towards the end of the session and her clients were about to call it quits because of the cold. “I’m so glad they stuck it out for a few more.”
Jonathan Banks, an award-winning British photographer with over 20 years’ experience in commercial and media photography, works with corporate clients, in editorial, and for various charities. “One of the charities that I support is International Alert, a peace building organization that works with people directly affected by conflict to build lasting peace,” he explains.
“I was asked to document their work in Liberia, where they had been working since 1993. Liberia, and the Mano River Region in West Africa more broadly, had experienced civil war for many years, and International Alert supported various programs to build stability and long-term peace. These included community radio stations, dialogues between local leaders, initiatives to promote greater security and a political voice for women, and festivals to celebrate peaceful co-existence and mutual respect between the different cultures of the region.
[Read: These Social Platforms Make Diverse Photographers More Visible]
© Jonathan Banks
Banks photographed this traditional west African dancer earlier in the day while they were setting up the festival. “In the evening I was photographing the spectacle of the festival as well as some of the performers waiting to go on the stage. I was aware of the incredible sky and sun disappearing, so I photographed some of the performers from behind the stage with the skyline in the background. This performer had to wait for around a minute during which I managed to take maybe 10-15 pictures. He was aware of me photographing him throughout and moved around, as I adjusted my exposure and added some ‘fill in flash.’
Banks says he did not have time to go through the images until much later, but at the time knew that he had captured something special. “Portrait photography is capturing something about the subject’s personality revealed through the connection between photographer and subject,” he says. “The picture has an incredible simplicity to it, with the subject and background. The colors, cloud and feather forms, contrast and composition all seem to come together and surround the African dancers’ eyes. I selected this particular photograph as I enjoy the subject’s direction of gaze, as I feel that you can tell that he is aware of me. There is a dignity and proudness of who he is in his stance which I find incredibly powerful.”
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