New York Grandmas
Photos & Text by Jennifer Lee
The five photographs are a part of a series that I had taken of my two great-aunts—my Halmonis—in May and November 2019. I wanted to intimately capture their experience as elderly, independent Korean women living in New York City.
My Halmonis often told me stories about their early days of immigrating to the United States from South Korea as younger, ambitious women. For over 40 years, the sisters heavily relied on each other for companionship and support while navigating and strategizing how they’d fulfill their tasks for the day. They’d swiftly and confidently march the streets of New York City; Helena was always far ahead of Sylvia. I was bemused by how small, yet mighty, they were on the busy and crowded avenues, with people stepping out of their paths and respecting their authoritative ways. Their jaywalking was second nature, a reflection of them being true New Yorkers. Custodians, store keepers, and community members recognized them on the street and called them “The Sisters,” sometimes “The Twins,” even though they were two years apart.
My Halmoni Helena passed away in late 2020, at the age of 99.
Jennifer Lee is a Toronto-based photographer. With a focus on candid and street photography, her practice becomes a storytelling tool and a quiet meditation on our changing landscapes and how our communities interact in these spaces. Her more personal and ongoing work is documenting her family and archiving her parents' old family photographs from Korea.