Interview with Black and White Documentary photographer Jo Farrell

Interview with Black and White Documentary photographer Jo Farrell


Jo Farrell is an award-winning black and white photographer and cultural anthropologist. Born in London, England she has been based in Hong Kong for the past seven years. Her photography work focuses on traditions and cultures that are dying out, including the project “Living History: Bound Feet Women of China.” She has been the recipient of numerous awards for her work on bound feet including a Jacob Riis Award, Black & White Spider Award, Center for Fine Art Photography and Women In Photography International winner juried by Mary Ellen Mark. She has had solo exhibitions in London, San Francisco and Hong Kong and has been included in group shows in New York, LA and Denver, Colorado. Her project has received critical acclaim and has been published internationally including The Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal, BBC, CNN, Stern magazine, Time Out, Fast Co., International Business Times and the Sydney Morning Herald. In early 2015 she will be presenting her work at TEDxWarwick.

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How and when did you become interested in photography?

Although interested from an earlier age with playing with the camera, I did not start to focus on my photography until 1998. I was stationed in Hong Kong at that time, and decided to travel to Beijing and Tibet. Once there I could not put the camera down and realized that I had found my true passion.

Is there any artist/photographer who inspired your art?

I am inspired by Mary Ellen Mark, the way she focuses on a specific project and takes photographs of people and places to tell their story. She has a huge body of work which is a testament to her skill and dedication for photography.

Why do you work in black and white rather than colour?

As a teenager I was transfixed by 1940s, 50s and 60s movies filmed in black and white. They told stories through form, shape, texture, light and shadow. I used to collect stills from these movies. Black and white gives more depth to an image, more emotion and requires more use of ones imagination. So often I see colour photographs that just lack composition, without the colour they would be dull and boring.

How much preparation do you put into taking a photograph/series of photographs?

My long-term project, Living History: Bound Feet Women of China, originally took a lot of preparation to build the foundation of the work. In recent years, I often get on a plane to mainland China with only doing the basics—having my Hasselblad’s cleaned, purchasing film and contacting a translator to see her availability. Once I am there, every day is different and can only be coordinated once on the ground. The women in the project live in rural areas and cannot be contacted in advance. Often I have driven past a woman who has bound feet and have stopped the car to see if they will be included in the project. Finding the participants is word-and-mouth. Having been working on this project for some years, I know the angles I potentially want to take and it’s a matter of studying each woman and location to get their story.

Where is your photography going? What projects would you like to accomplish?

I have currently just self published a book and I am setting up talks in both London and Hong Kong. I am hoping my photography can reach a wider audience by being shown in major museums and galleries. I will continue my long-term project for many years to come. Meanwhile, I am hoping to start a new project that deals with other female traditions.
Link to your website.

Website: www.livinghistory.photography

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