Editor’s note – the links provided will take you to pages that may be uncensored and NSFW.
Ren Hang, for many in the art world over the past decade, has been a visionary and contemporary radical that managed all at once to be a censored artist in his homeland of China – where he’s also been arrested for his work – and celebrated the rest of the world over. With exhibitions of his work flocked to in cosmopolitan cities like New York, Paris, Hong Kong, and Vienna, among others, Hang’s reach was broad enough and far enough that even if you’re not familiar with his name, you’ve likely seen his work, or avoided it depending on your particular persuasion or aversion to what his homeland finds taboo, though his thoughts on the matter were quite clear in talk with Taschen,
“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.” – Ren Hang
From Jilin, China, Hang was an advertising student, but his notoriety and fame and infamy were a result of the rather simply set-up images that Hang took with his 35mm film point and shoot camera. A vocation he picked up randomly and started shooting nudes of his roommate. His fascination with provocative but not necessarily explicit nudes have been often imitated in the last ten years, but his generally stand out – enough so that he’s got 7 monographs and the last of which was with Taschen, bearing his name as the title.
DAZED writer Ashleigh Kane recalls in her remembrance piece on Hang, an email correspondence between the two in January whereby Ren expressed his departure from advertising for photography, and wrote, “It was not because I was bored of advertising particularly, it was because I was bored of life (living in that way) in general”. Particularly curious words and somewhat prophetic now, it wasn’t exactly a secret from the press that Hang suffered from clinical depression, a topic at which he had expressly written about. It’s reported he took his own life on Thursday.
Ren Hang is the kind of photographer that often yearns for a kind word from other modern photographers who at the same time get the kind words but long to do what Hang did. For me, he represents much of what I hope to see a return to in photography, a thoughtful vision, a willingness to play, to have contrast, and work with a real focus on the subject versus work that’s a showcase for the technical capabilities of a photographer. It’s all at once humble and unapologetic. He’ll be missed, but will continue to be important.
You can find more from Ren here, and well, everywhere.