Born in Hong Kong in 1977, Kurt Tong became a full-time photographer in 2003. He gained his Masters in documentary photography at the LCC in 2006 and began working on much more personal projects exploring his Chinese roots and understanding of his motherland. Here he talks about his series “Combing for Ice and Jade”:
At the end of the 19th century, thanks to the silk trade, sectors of women in China became financially independent and enjoyed autonomy. This evolved into the Comb Up Ritual. By taking the chastity vow, they are free of obligations towards their parents and would wear their hair in a long braid and dress in a certain way.
This project centers around 87-year-old Mak who was my nanny and worked for my family for 40 years. Denied opportunities due to her gender, she became the main caregiver to her siblings at the age of 8. In her early 20s, not wanting an arranged marriage, she “combed up” and left for Hong Kong.
She kept her family alive through the great famine in the 1950s, educated, built houses, and supported her nephews’ businesses. Yet through all this, she has retained a very simple lifestyle.
Both biographical and anthropological, her story is the starting point to explore generations of “combed up women,” giving a voice to generations of hard-working, selfless, and independent unsung heroines.
Photography Friday is a regular feature from Shanghaiist in association with Photography of China, Marine Cabos’s fantastic platform about photography and photographers in China.