GROWING UP AROUND STARS My father, Sir Terry Farrell, is one of Britain’s best-known architects. He designed Charing Cross Station, the MI6 (headquarters building) and the Home Office, in London, and the Peak Tower and Kowloon Station, in Hong Kong. My mum, Rosie, was a home economics teacher. My parents split up when I was two and my mother moved to Ipswich, in Suffolk (England), and opened her own restaurant, Rosie’s Place. As a Michelin-starred restaurant, it was very popular and busy. Every Monday night, we went out to dine at another restaurant so my mum and stepdad didn’t have to cook. My sister and I would be hushed because they were always listening to other diners’ comments on the food. ZA ZA ZOOM As a teenager, I used to love watching the Sunday matinees of old 40s, 50s and 60s movies. All that wonderful cinematography! In films like The Third Man and Citizen Kane , the light, shadow and atmosphere put you on the edge of your seat. I was mesmerised by film noir; it started my love affair with photography. I was always the child in the family with a camera taking photos of people from weird angles. When I was 14, my dad bought me a subscription to Zoom Magazine , an A3-sized publication of full-page images. I must have had an aspiration to be a photographer at that point without fully knowing it. HK FOR THE FIRST TIME When I was 20, I got a job with an art publisher doing layout, design and writing. It gave me a lot of confidence to try new things. Then in 1992, my dad won the competition to design the Peak Tower and asked me to come and help with logistics. I’d just come to the end of a relationship and jumped at the chance. I loved Hong Kong and didn’t want to leave, but after four months my post ended. CAPITAL GAINS Soon afterwards, I moved to San Francisco, where my mother had been living. In 1998, I came back to work in Hong Kong for two years and travelled to Beijing on a dirt-cheap Chinese tour, as the only English speaker. I shared a room with the tour guide but each morning went off to do my thing, which stunned her somewhat. I took loads of photos of hutongs condemned for demolition. I felt so alive. Later, I went to Lhasa and travelled overland to Nepal with a backpack filled with camera film. When I returned to San Francisco, I did a photography degree and then a degree in cultural anthropology. Friends persuaded me to do an exhibition of all my photos of China and Tibet. It was a terrifying experience, yet it was a complete success. It gave me the confidence to exhibit further and turn more to photography. Since then, I have had solo exhibitions in London and Hong Kong. CABBIE’S TIP Seven years ago, I moved to Hong Kong and got a job at an architectural firm as a marketing manager. I used the city as a vehicle to photograph Asia. This gave me the scope to pursue my passion for recording traditions and cultures that are dying out. Specifically, I wanted to record the remaining women with bound feet. It wasn’t easy to find them but after asking around, a driver in Shanghai told me his grandmother had bound feet. BEST FOOT FORWARD In 2006, I went to meet Zhang Yunying, who is now 89 years old. She lives a two-hour drive from Jinan, in Shandong province. I held her foot in my hand. It was so soft – not what I was expecting. Since then, so many people have talked to me about how grotesque and barbaric foot binding is but I don’t see it like that at all. I suppose what I feel is empathy. This is a generation of women who were not only the last ones to go through having their feet bound, but they also suffered through the Cultural Revolution and the Great Famine. Their lives have been very harsh. Foot binding was imperative to finding a good matrimonial match. The smaller, well-formed, bound foot granted them more options. After unbinding, which happened in the Cultural Revolution, their feet spread out. Interestingly, most of the women are very eager to convey that they once had feet two or three inches smaller than they do now. I believe it is with pride; having their feet bound was not in vain as they had achieved this precious goal. Body image is an important message in my work. I’ve struggled with body image all my life and so it resonates with me that these women did something to make themselves more beautiful in accordance with society’s norms. In today’s society, many women go through cosmetic procedures to become more aesthetically pleasing. SNAP JUDGMENT One thing I have learned from photography is patience. I have sat for hours in the same position waiting for the right moment. At times, I have been the fly on the wall, becoming part of the scenery, invisible and letting life go on around me, waiting to click the shutter. Often I see the shot waiting for me. Sometimes I am too late and I can still see those images of missed photographs like a catalogue of failures. It’s not easy to sell photos of women with bound feet; it’s honestly not something people want on their walls. However, it’s impossible for me not to go back. It’s like having a whole series of grandmothers; I need to know the rest of their stories. My hope is that these photographs will find their place in a prominent museum or gallery and be published in a major book. The launch of Jo Farrell’s book, Living History: Bound Feet Women of China, will be held on Tuesday, 7pm to 9pm, at AO Vertical Art Space, 1/F, Asia One Tower, 8 Fung Yip Street, Chai Wan, tel: 2976 0913. Visit www.jofarrell.com for details.