Artist of the Month- January- Jo Farrell

This month's AOM is Jo Farrell. Jo is a celebrated photographer in Hong Kong. She is known for her work with women and captivating portraits of bound feet in China. She's a smart lady, dedicated to creating thought-provoking work. We are honored to have her as our first AOM for 2016. Learn more about her unique perspectives on life and photography, below.


1. Name, Birth Place, Age

Jo Farrell, London, 49


2. How does where you were raised affect your work?

Nature vs Nurture? Growing up in England certainly had it's advantages--easy access to art and culture. In my teens we moved 70 miles from London to a town where everyone knew when another sneezed, it was dull and dreary and I would live vicariously through the pictorial photojournalism articles in the Sunday newspaper or watch black and white Sunday matinees on TV.


I loved the suspense and drama created using shadows and form to create the illusion. I always knew that I wanted to be in a creative field, although it took me a while to home my passion. In my early twenties I worked for a London publisher of Art & Architectural magazines and books which broadened my outlook on the arts. It also led to my first solo trip to Austria and the revelation that I could travel anywhere on my own.


3. Where did you train?

After spending 18 months in Asia (1998-1999) I moved to San Francisco. I had had a eureka moment whilst photographing the hutongs in Beijing--that all I wanted to do was photograph--I had realised my passion. I enrolled at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, majoring in documentary photography.  Their darkrooms were 10 minutes from my apartment and I spent 1,000s of hours printing my work from Tibet and China. Which led to my first exhibition in 2001. I went on to study Cultural Anthropology at SFSU and continued with my studies when I moved back to Asia in 2006 through an online portal.


4. What is your favourite style of photography? Why?

Photojournalism vs Documentary Photography.

I love the realism of Photojournalism--seeing through someone else's eyes a scene that is a 'fair and accurate' representation of what actually happened--the very code of practice/ethics that nothing can be moved at the location (and these days PhotoShopped in or out). Everything must be left how you found it, no fiction, "on-the-fly", capturing a moment in time. My work is more Documentary Photography as I often have to 'set up' shots, rather than 'shoot from the hip.' Both rely on story telling so that the viewer gets the whole picture from overall shots setting the scene, to portraits and details. I love details--I always take photographs inside the old ladies homes of their belongings and things hanging on the walls, I never move a thing, it's important to show life how it really is. 

5. What was the best show you EVER saw?

One of the most memorable would have to be Sebastiao Sealgado's "Genesis" exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London in 2013,;his work is amazing, just extraordinary, the photographic prints are so luscious -- you cannot take your eyes off them. The exhibit had over 200 large scale prints depicting landscapes and people in peril around the world. The kind of exhibition from which you come away with a buzz, inspired, awed and talk at length about; the images never leave your mind.


6. What was the best show in HK that you ever saw?

"Through the Lens of John Thomson" at the Maritime Museum in 2013--an exhibition of the Scottish photographer's work whilst he was in Asia in the late 1860s. Thomson captured people and street life in Hong Kong and the mainland, using wet collodion process (glass plate negatives). He was a pioneer travel photographer. The exhibit itself showed over 100 large scale reproductions from the original glass plates, portraits of a Manchu bride, knife grinder, Guangzhou gamblers and the streets of Hong Kong including Lyndhurst Terrace. It is a great space, very open with high-ceilings and lots of daylight.


7. What piece of work are you most proud of?

My project "Living History: Bound Feet Women of China" has been an incredible learning experience about what is important in life and why-we-do-what-we-do. It has led to all kinds of research on the lengths to which we will go to make ourselves attractive or fit in within our own society. The time spent with these old ladies is indelible. In the past year it has garnered international press coverage, including 215,000 views on my YouTube video alone. It was also covered by the SCMP, The Guardian, BBC, CNN, Huffington Post and the Smithsonian Magazine. It is quite overwhelming when your work goes viral, especially after working 9 years on the project with little coverage or recognition. 

8. What is your process like?

I see what is in front of me -- I rarely plan in advance what I am going to photograph. Although having now photographed 50 women with bound feet, I make sure that I take a portrait shot, details of her feet, and her home. I typically carry 100+ rolls of black and white film with me and make sure they are hand checked (not x-rayed) in airports and train stations. Before I go on a trip I make sure my Hassleblad camera has its annual MOT - especially with the humidity in Hong Kong. 

9. What is your dream project?

My dream project is to be immersed within some of the minority groups in China to document their disappearing traditions and cultures. 


10. If you could change one thing about the art scene in HK what would it be?

Hong Kong's art scene is a strange animal - there is a burgeoning opulent international scene with the likes of Art Basel, Art Central, and the (not so) Affordable Art Fair. And there's a thriving grass-roots / up-and-coming-young-Chinese artist scene with places like Parasite and FoTan. But there is little in-between. Hong Kong galleries are not interested in my work; it's not edgy enough or swanky enough. So my hope is that there will be more venues or philanthropists to give artists like myself the opportunity to exhibit and sell their work. 


*The photo of Jo was taken by Josh Tam.

Related articles:

hongkong, aom, january


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