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Photography, Jeju give new meaning of life to retired couple

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Choi Jae-young, left, and Kim Mee-hee pose in front of the large display cabinet full of cameras at the couple's Juju home. / Provided by Choi
Choi Jae-young, left, and Kim Mee-hee pose in front of the large display cabinet full of cameras at the couple's Juju home. / Provided by Choi

By Park Jin-hai

Former elementary school teacher Kim Mee-hee, 63, says she had never imagined she would pick up photography as a hobby after retirement.

"It wasn't on my to-do list. Probably moreso, because of my husband," she said. Her husband, photographer Choi Jae-young, who has worked for local newspapers Dong-A Ilbo and JoongAng Ilbo, has been either away from home taking photos or coming home very late after having drinks with his colleagues. "I had been literally sick and tired of all the cameras in the house," she said.

Settling down in Jeju in 2014 after retirement, which has been her husband's long dream for almost 15 years, changed all that.

"If we had stayed in Seoul, we would have had our separate cars and hung out with each other's friends. But when we came down here, owning just one car, we had to go around together," Kim said. Her husband used to hang out with his new artist friends in the neighborhood and Kim always accompanied him to his social gatherings.

When Choi went out to take photos for his first Jeju exhibition, he gave his wife a camera to let her kill time. She started to photograph flowers four years ago.

"One morning, I took a picture of the dew and found strange rays of light through it in my photos. It's something that you cannot see with the naked eye. I was so thrilled and since then I tried to go outside to pick up those rare moments of light," she said. "Since the time I found that kind of light early in the morning between 6:30 and 8 a.m., when the weather is good, I just put aside all my chores and go out to pick up the moments."

Kim Mee-hee's piece in 'Universe, Light Drop' photography collection
Kim Mee-hee's piece in 'Universe, Light Drop' photography collection
Now she takes an average of 300 photos a day. Choi, who taught her photography skills, says now he admires her passion for photography. Whenever she finds great photos, she gives her photography teacher husband a kiss, sharing her happiness.

Jeju also changed Choi's life. "When I came down here, I became fascinated by the island's myth about the goddess called Seolmundae Halmang and her 500 sons, which became the strange-shaped stones of the island. Then I started to take photos of stones on the island," the 66-year-old photographer said.

When he was working for the newspapers since 1976, his subjects had been in motion, but now his subjects are immobile stones.

"I didn't look at stones as dead objects. I found life in them and started to look at them as if I'm taking photos of a person. Looking at those stones, I found many faces in them. Depending on the time of the day, weather and even different moods of the photographer, the stone gives different feelings," Choi said. "I've taken photos of the same stone for as long as four years some times, as if I'm in a long-time documentary project."

The couple is holding a joint photography exhibition, as the exhibition organizer later added Kim's "Universe, Light Drops" series works to Choi's stone photography collection. Choi Jaeyoung and Kim Meehee's Photography Collection opened earlier this month and runs until July 28 at the Obaek Jang Goon Gallery within Jeju Stone Park.

"Living on Jeju, I've found the splendid world of light when the morning light lands on dew and strong energy from the frost on a cold winter's morning. Although good light and a good subject make good photos, what is more important I think is the photographer's mind. I feel like Jeju and photography have given us a new meaning of life in our later days," Kim said.

Choi Jae-young's piece in 'Jeju Stone' photography collection
Choi Jae-young's piece in 'Jeju Stone' photography collection

Park Jin-hai


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