The Chinese photographer Ren Hang, often described as one of the leading lights of the new generation of Chinese photographers, died at the age of 29 on Friday the 24th of February. Next month he would have turned 30. Ren Hang created visual poetry of naked human bodies and it is very sad that his directed yet natural way of capturing his surroundings has come to an end.
The photographer, poet and provocateur Ren Hang passed away Friday morning in Berlin, according to his friends. The photographer, who was born in Jilin in China, is often mentioned as an important part of Chinese artists battle for creative freedom. Both Ren Hang and the artist Ai Weiwei are seen as controversial in their homeland, but have been and are wildly popular in the rest of the world.
Ren Hang was enduring censorship and intimidation from the authorities throughout his whole career. He has been arrested many times for his sexual photographs, as they were considered pornography and thus breaking Chinese laws. He has said that the naked focus from the beginning was a result of his boredom when studying advertising. After starting to capture naked, twisted bodies, he was continually doing so in the rest of his work as a result of him wanting to portray every organ in an emotional and vivid way. He wanted to show that cocks and pussies are not embarrassing at all. “I used to be very curious about sex; there was something mysterious about it, and I took some pictures for fun. Now I see sexuality as the most natural thing in the world,” he said in an interview.
Despite this he denied all other political or cultural interpretations of his work. However many viewers have wanted to give Ren Hang a rather political role, and it has been said that due to him working in a context that wasn’t free or open, especially in his home country, he could not go around these themes completely.
To Ren Hang gender was not important when photographing, and men and women were portrayed equally. Ren Hang himself was homosexual and said that questions regarding diversity in sexuality and gender needed to be discussed openly, but he hoped that we in the future will not distinguish people with labels such as “homosexual” or “heterosexual”.
Ren Hang mainly photographed his friends as strangers made him nervous. Possibly it was that trust between the photographer and the models that made it possible for Ren Hang to capture the naked body in the artistically beautiful way he did, arranging the naked limbs in illusionary ways. He played with proportions and created visual poetry. To many people that is what his photos, all shot with film, are: pure, beautiful and citifying poetry.
During big parts of his life Ren Hang suffered from depression, which he also spoke openly about in his Chinese poems on his blog. If this was the reason for an important artist to die at the age of 29 we don’t know or don’t want to speculate about, but it sure is truly sad.
Ren Hang, rest in peace. Your work has been and will stay important.
His treasure of work is huge. TASCHEN’s book “Ren Hang” was released in January this year, and it is his first international collection published. The book covers his entire career, both with loved favorites and many new photos of women, men, Beijing, and those many erections. On his portfolio and his Instagram you can also see big parts of his work.