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Zhang Yun Ying, 77 [2005], (1928-) Photo: Jo Farrell

Living History: Bound Feet Women of China

Hong Kong photographer Jo Farrell recently finished an eight-year project to photograph the last women with bound feet. Her Kickstarter funded project was first covered by Localiiz last year and we are happy to see it come to fruition with a book launch tonight at the British Council in Hong Kong. We asked Farrell what it was like to create “Living History: Bound Feet Women of China” and meet the women who underwent this excruciating practice.

As a photographer and cultural anthropologist my job is to tell stories through images. I have always been fascinated by modernisation and urban growth and how memories are formed. About ten years ago I started focusing more on traditions and cultures that are dying out, capturing the essence of something that will no longer exist ~ a record of life. In 2006 I started work on a project entitled, “Living History: Bound Feet Women of China” which grew from the chance meeting of one woman who has bound feet to a documentation of 50 of the last remaining women in China with bound feet, a practice that was outlawed in 1949.

Yang Jinge, 87 [2010] (1923-)
Photo: Jo FarrellThe more women I have met and photographed, the more I want to be ensconced in rural areas of China recording their stories. This generation of women (now in their 80s and 90s) were the last to have their feet bound and have lived through some of the harshes periods in Chinese history—the Cultural Revolution and the great famine. As peasant farmers they had to work in the fields for most of their lives. As women they have been the backbone of Chinese family life.

My new book is about celebrating the lives of these incredible women who bound their feet to ensure they had a better life—it was a way of having control over their destiny. Women like Zhang Xiu Ling who had her feet were bound at the age seven by her mother, as she was told that women would be laughed at if they had big feet. She was not willing to have her feet bound and sometimes unbound them to relieve the pain. Her mother scolded her and said that she will never marry. Or Guo Ting Yu whose mother (who had bound feet) was unwilling to bind her feet. So at 15 Guo bound her own feet, after carefully watching her mother. It was painful but she tells me that they looked beautiful.

My photographs are all taken on b&w negative using a Hassleblad camera and processed by myself in the darkroom. Each image is shot and used full frame, all cropping is done within the camera itself, what you see is what I meant to take. These photographs are a tribute to these great women; it has been a privilege to be part of their journey.

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