On February 23rd, after years of struggling with depression, the famed and provocative Chinese photographer took his own life in Beijing – the city that played host to the start of his short but successful career a mere six years ago.
To most in the art world, the name Ren Hang conjures up images of bent nude bodies, red lipstick and pond lilies. The 29-year-old artist jumped from the 28th floor of an apartment building in Beijing. The reason for his death is unknown, but his struggle with depression was one he openly shared with the public. Hang posted poetry in Chinese about his experiences with mental illness on his website under a tab labelled “My Depression”.
Ren Hang’s choice to use naked bodies in his art, as he explained in an interview with Vice Japan in 2013, is not to provoke or disgust the viewer, but to instead depict his subjects in their most raw and natural form. The sexually explicit nature of Hang’s images caused some of his exhibitions to be shut down by Chinese authorities because of censorship, but the international art community welcomed his work.
At the time of his death in February, Hang’s work was being exhibited in Stockholm and Amsterdam respectively (NYTimes) According to Taschen, during his six year career, Hang’s work has been featured in 70 group shows and he has had 20 solo exhibitions, in cities all around the world.
Hang revealed that he shot most of his work on versions of the Minolta 35mm point-and-shoot camera in an interview with French magazine Purple. The clean style and formal composition of his images, often set in nature, is juxtaposed with the abstract way he often composed his nude subjects’ bodies. His photographs reveal the ability of film photography to capture moments in their rawest forms. His art reveals the power of images to simultaneously resist reform and to evoke a strange sense of nostalgia.
Ren Hang remains one of the great creative prodigy’s in the field of modern film photography. His work is unique, because his photographs retain a “found-on-the-street quality”. Hang chose to shoot portraits of his friends as opposed to models, and as a result his images are refreshingly different from the glossy post-editing guise of most modern photography (Qin, 2017).
Although his career short and his death a mystery, Ren Hang was a visionary and will be so remembered.
All photos above by REN HANG, available for viewing on his website.
Introducing the world of Ren Hang. 2014. Purple Magazine France. Available: http://purple.fr/magazine/ss-2014-issue-21/introducing-the-world-of-ren-hang/
Qin, A. 2017. Ren Hang, Provocative Chinese Photographer, Dies at 29. The New York Times. 3 March. Available: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/03/arts/ren-hang-dead-photographer-china.html?_r=1
Tribute to Ren Hang. 2017. Available: https://www.taschen.com/pages/en/catalogue/sex/all/05318/facts.ren_hang.htm
The Art of Taboo – Ren Hang. 2013. Vice Japan. Available: https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/the-art-of-taboo-ren-hang