lust for life

Having struggled with depression for many years already, Chinese photographer and poet Ren Hang took his own life at the age of 29 in Berlin a few days ago. His searing images, a carnival of milky limbs and botanical beauty, were celebrated and censored in equal measure.

Hang was arrested several times for his explicit photographs and experienced censorship throughout his career in his home country. His pictures were a celebration of brazen exposure told through a language of graphic lines and block coloring. His subjects were friends - and more recently fans. A self-taught photographer, Hang once said he shoots with "no plans."

The original article was published in Lodown #76, June 2011

REN HANG. days of being wild

The most recent issues of Lodown proved that eerie, whimsical and psych-informed photography sure can be fun, but every now and then it’s necessary to deal with the real world. And Beijing photographer Ren Hang certainly keeps you in check with the ugly, naked, curious and odd truth. Portrayed sans any type of Photoshop trickery or digital photography, Hang captures a Chinese underground with a lust for life and a healthy dose of hedonism through images of weirdly positioned naked bodies in sterile apartments. Needless to say, he was officially banned from every gallery in Beijing.


How did you get into photography…and are you able to actually make a living from it in Beijing?

I don't recall exactly how I got into this business. I just recently graduated from college, and I’m actually looking for job. In China photographers like me can't really make a living with photos like these... but I’ll keep going.


Over the last ten years in particular, China (well, at least theoretically) opened itself to the ideas of democratization and capitalism…how has your life change personally in Beijing? Are you experiencing a new kind of freedom or do you still suffer a lot from censorship?

Haha, nothing significant changed. My photos and exhibitions get banned as always. But at a certain level, or at least compared with the past, China is indeed becoming more and more free spirited.


Do you actually work with professional models or do you find them among your friends?

Most of my models are my good friends, they all trust in me and enjoy having their pictures taken…well, that’s what I hope.


You seem to have mixed emotions about living in the big city…on the one hand you’re showing skylines and apartments, on the other hand none of the people you portray look too happy.

I believe it has something to do with my periodic depression; therefore people in my pictures seem not so happy. But depression is something we need–it makes us think. I’m a pessimistic person but I hardly get desperate. I have no interest or affection to any city; I only care about people.


You’re also showing a lot of nudity in your pictures, even in a heavily explicit or semi-pornographic way…is this kind of photography accepted in China’s major cities by now or are you trying to push the envelope a little with your work?

China still would not accept this. About sex and nudity: I don’t have the intention to express or to make a change, not to mention reform the system and the time we’re living in. There is absolutely no deeper meaning in my pictures, or at least there’s nothing really serious in them. I just love genitals and I will never take on wicked thoughts while photographing them. I just want to show a different side…and I’m only really passionate about the genitals of my lover.


How does it work with the creative underground in Beijing…are people supportive or is everyone fighting for themselves?

Phew, I wish I could give you an explanation or elaborate report, but I don’t have the slightest clue, to be honest.


How important is the Internet for you, and how do you deal with the government trying their best to censor blog-culture?

For me the Internet is a great platform, it gets my work to more people and they will react to it in a certain way. For now, most of my pictures could not be shown (officially) on the Internet. I hope one day these poor little pictures could be regularly shown in daylight.