Chinese foot binding

Phil Coomes
Picture editor

image copyrightJo Farrell

Close-up shots of people's feet may not be the first choice of subject for a photo project, but Jo Farrell's pictures of the last remaining women in China with bound feet act as both a link to the past and a fascinating portrait of those involved.

Foot-binding is believed to have begun during, or just before, the Song Dynasty in China around the 10th Century, and became widespread within a couple of hundred years. Bound feet were seen as a status symbol for wealthy women who did not need to work, although eventually the practice became widespread.

Farrell writes: "Although considered fairly barbaric, it was a tradition that enabled women to find a suitable partner. Matchmakers or mothers-in-law required their son's betrothed to have bound feet as a sign that she would be a good wife (she would be subservient and without complaint)."

It was not until the revolution of 1911 that the process was banned, yet some in rural areas continued the tradition for decades to come until the bandages were forcibly removed leaving the feet disfigured.

For the past eight years, Farrell has photographed and interviewed around 50 women in rural areas of China, most now in their 80s and 90s, whose feet were once bound.

Farrell's commitment is total, even moving to Asia to ensure the project was within her reach. She develops and prints the black and white film that passes through her Hasselblad camera, often making limited edition prints.

She plans to continue the project and eventually to publish the work in book form with the photographs sitting alongside interviews with the women.

Here is a small selection of the work.

image copyrightJo Farrell
image captionYang Jinge
image copyrightjo farrell
image copyrightJo farrell
image captionZhang Yun Ying
image copyrightJo Farrell
image captionZhao Hua Hong
image copyrightjo farrell
image captionLiu Shiu Ying and her husband

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