Ren Hang

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    Ren Hang (Chinese: 任航; March 30, 1987 – February 24, 2017) was a Chinese photographer and poet. He was born in 1987, in a suburb of Changchun, Jilin province,in northeastern China.

    Hang attended the Communication University of China where he majored in advertising, though his interest quickly turned to photography rather than his studies. In 2007, he began shooting nude images of his friends. As a self-taught photographer, he said his style of photography was inspired by the artist Shūji Terayama.

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    During Hang’s incipient career, he was known mostly for nude photographic portraits of his friends. Hang’s work is significant for its representation of Chinese sexuality within a heavily censored society. And for this erotic undertones, Hang was arrested by PRC authorities several times.

    His art trajectory was backed by the famed contemporary Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, who included Hang in his 2013 Netherlands show, “Fuck Off 2 The Sequel”, and curated the photographer’s 2014 exhibition in Paris, France.

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    In spite of the nude and taboo nature in his works, Hang did not consider his work inappropriate: “I don’t really view my work as taboo, because I don’t think so much in cultural context, or political context. I don’t intentionally push boundaries, I just do what I do.”

    This can account for his reticence to limiting his work to settings indoors. He said there were no preferred places for him to work, as he believed anywhere was beautiful and worthy to be shot, from sparse studios to parks and forests, and even in atop buildings.

    Hang’s photo has a very distinct personal characteristics, featuring nude group and solo portraits of men and women often contorted into highly performative positions.

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    Questioning the purpose of his work, he once stated that his creation a way to seek fun for both photographer and the photographed.

    However, once he had reached fame on an international level, he began to think deeply about his works. The British Journal of Photography quoted him as once saying: “I don’t want others having the impression that Chinese people are robots… Or they do have sexual genitals but always keep them as some secret treasures. I want to say that our cocks and pussies are not embarrassing at all.”

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    Hang also focused on the marginal population with gender identity disorders within Chinese society by ‘indeterminating’ sex and gender in some of his works: group of nude bodies stacked together, men wearing silk stockings and wearing lipstick.

    The international quarterly journal specializing in photography called Aperture used his photo as the cover of the theme Queer. Commentators also see his work, the naked body and the starched penis, as evolving sexual mores and the struggle for creative and sexual freedom in a conservative, tightly controlled society.

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    Insiders indicate Hang’s work as softcore pornography for nudity, and sex as a theme was most pervasive in his work, but Hang also worked with other themes. The most famous one was called “My Mum”. Although still under a fetishistic atmosphere, posing with usual props in Ren’s works like animals and plants, Ren’s mother posed as a model not nude, but in a light-hearted way to represent her daily life.

    His erotic, playful and casual yet provocative expression made him rise to fame worldwide. He took photos for big brands and famous magazines like Boys Don’t Cry, L’OFFICIEL, GQ Style, Gucci, Totem Collective, Antidote and Vice.

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    Hang used a point-and-shoot camera to make film-loaded pictures. He would ask the naked model stack, splay, or sprawl as he said directly and shoot in quick succession. On his oeuvre, sex organs, breasts and butt holes were not covered up, but featured, or accentuated with props and close-ups.

    Colors were showy and contrast, which made it a visual impact to the audience. This, along with the fact all bodies were slim, lithe and relatively hairless, made the genital impact much more impressive. Through his photograph communicated a uniquely raw, stark aesthetic that batters taboos and celebrates sexuality.

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    Nudity is not a theme in the artifacts which can be widely accepted by the Chinese old generation. Ren’s works are mistreated by the public as pornography sometimes. Although some articles wrote that Ren used his photographs to cultural jamming traditional misunderstood which treated the nudity as a shame, Ren didn’t believe he was challenging the stereotype and leading a revolution.

    For Ren, nudity and sexuality are natural themes which he shot in his works. “Nudes are there since always. We were born nude. So talking about revolution, I don’t think there’s anything to revolutionize. Unless people are born with clothes on, and I want to take their clothes off, then I think this is a revolution.”

    Ren said he was not trying to liberate nudity and sexuality since he believed that Chinese young generation was open-minded and less affected by the old-fashioned cultures.

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    Hang has published one collection of poetry by Neurasthenia, Taiwan, which contained his poems from 2007 to 2013 named Poem Collection of Renhang.

    This collection of poetry mainly about his enthusing emotions on describing the ideal love and life with lovers as well as the fear and loneliness when losing loves. These emotional erotic poetry usually comprised a handful of short lines, their tone ranging from humorous to sensual to dark.

    He also wrote a collection of prose poems named My Depression recording his inner struggles against depression, included frequent hallucinations and hearing voices. In one poem, he wrote:

    Life is really one/

    Precious gift/

    But sometimes I feel that/

    It has been given to the wrong person.

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    Hang was known to be suffering from depression. He posted an article titled “My depression” on his blog, recording the fear, anxiety and internal conflicts he suffered from. Hang took his own life by jumping from the 28th floor of a building in Beijing on 24th of February.

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