Chinese foot binding

Bound feet

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.

Yang Jinge Yang Jinge
Bound feet
Zhang Yun Ying Zhang Yun Ying
Zhao Hua Hong Zhao Hua Hong
Liu Shiu Ying and her husband Liu Shiu Ying and her husband

You can see more of Jo Farrell's work on her website.

Phil Coomes Article written by Phil Coomes Phil Coomes Picture editor

Lewis Hamilton: A photographer's view

Press Association photographer David Davies looks back at the race that clinched the Formula 1 title for Lewis Hamilton.

Read full article

More on This Story

Features

  • Witley Court in Worcestershire Abandoned mansions

    What happened to England's lost stately homes?


  • Tray of beer being carried10 Things

    Beer is less likely to slosh than coffee, and other nuggets


  • Spoon and buckwheatSoul food

    The grain that tells you a lot about Russia's state of mind


  • Woman readingWeekendish

    The best reads you need to catch up on


  • Salim Rashid SuriThe Singing Sailor

    The young Omani who became a prewar fusion music hit


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.