Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Ren Hang: Controversial Photographer

Ren Hang
Ren Hang, a Chinese photographer whose erotic images of naked young models arranged in provocative poses offered an unfiltered glimpse into the intimate lives of Chinese youth, died on February 24, 2017, in Beijing. He was 29.
Dian Hanson, an editor of a monograph of Mr. Ren’s work that was published in January by Taschen, confirmed his death. The newspaper The Beijing News said Mr. Ren had jumped off the 28th floor of a building. Friends said he had suffered from cyclical depression.
Every year I have the same hope: to die early,” Mr. Ren wrote in late January on the Chinese social media site Sina Weibo. “I hope that can happen this year.”
In his brief career Mr. Ren honed a distinctly bold visual style that was also subversive, if only because of the social environment in which he worked. In his photos, a person sits on the grass holding what appears to be a disembodied head; a man applies red lipstick to his penis; two naked women hug high in a tree.
“It is very difficult to shoot nudes in China,” Mr. Ren said in a 2014 interview with the French fashion magazine Purple. “People are more bound by traditional and conservative attitudes toward the body. They think it’s a degradation, even a demoralization, to show what they think should be private. They generally abhor nudity here. We hide the body in our culture.”
Using point-and-shoot film cameras and photographing mostly his friends, Mr. Ren built up an extensive body of work in which clothing was a rarity and gender and sexuality an afterthought. Body parts are presented in every form: erect, limp, hairy, shaved, stacked, twisted, intertwined, bent, pinched.
“He had this very clean style,” Ms. Hanson said. “Very formal composition, but for these outrageous subjects with these beautiful, innocent, kind of sexually ambiguous individuals who were clearly not professional models but who were all tremendously appealing.”
Even as Mr. Ren rose to international fame, his photos retained a found-on-the-street quality, as if the viewer had stumbled upon a bunch of pictures taken by someone just messing around with his friends.


Ren Hang, naked in his bathroom

But because of the sexually explicit nature of his work, Mr. Ren often ran into problems with the authorities in China, which maintains strict prohibitions on pornographic images. In a 2013 interview with Vice Japan, he recalled having one exhibition in China shut down by censors on “suspicion of sex.” He was also arrested several times for shooting nude photos outdoors and once, he said, in the name of “group licentiousness.”
His numerous encounters with the authorities led many to draw comparisons to other subversive artists, most notably Ai Weiwei, the Chinese activist and provocateur. But Mr. Ren resisted such comparisons, stating over and over in interviews that his photos were never meant to be political and emphasizing instead his deep connection to China and to Chinese culture.
“I don’t really view my work as taboo, because I don’t think so much in cultural context or political context,” he told Taschen. “I don’t intentionally push boundaries. I just do what I do.”
Born on May 30, 1987, in a suburb of Changchun, a provincial capital in northeastern China, Mr. Ren had by his own account a relatively trouble-free childhood. (“Maybe too normal,” he once told a reporter who had asked him how he had fallen into depression.) His father was a railway worker, and his mother, who later modeled for Mr. Ren in a memorable series, “My Mum”,  worked at a printing house.


Ren Hang

At 17, he moved to Beijing where he began taking nude photos while studying advertising. “We were living in cramped dorm rooms of four people, so I would frequently see my roommates in the nude,” he told an interviewer in 2014. “It was a natural and easy subject because I was shooting everything anyway.”
He began to show his work in 2009, mostly in small group exhibitions in China. After several years of exhibiting and publishing his own books, he started attracting international attention.
In recent years he had begun to take on more commissions, shooting for major fashion brands and magazines as well as for the singer and rapper Frank Ocean’s Boys Don’t Cry fan magazine.
At his death, Mr. Ren’s work was being shown in two separate solo exhibitions, at the  Fotografiska Museum in Stockholm (until April 2) and at the Foam Photography Museum in Amsterdam (until March 12), as well as in a dual show with the artist Li Xinjian at the KWM Artcenter in Beijing (recently extended to March 24). His photos were shown in more than 20 solo and 70 group shows around the world.
Mr. Ren was a writer and poet and kept an account of his experience with depression in a blog, “My Depression,” on his website.
Ren Hang
____________________________
In one poem, “Gift,” dated July, 2014, he wrote, in Chinese:
Life is really one
Precious gift
But sometimes I feel that
It has been given to the wrong person 
_____________________________

Photos by Ren Hang 
























































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