The visionary Chinese photographer Ren Hang passed earlier this week at just 29 years old, suddenly and heartbreakingly leaving the world with one less truly singular talent. As friends shared posts and articles, I realized how his work has touched each one of us in unique and personal ways. I asked several friends- themselves photographers, artists, writers, LGBTQ advocates, to reflect upon the influence and inspiration Ren Hang provided, and these are the thoughts they shared with me.
Given a time when open sexuality is taboo in present-day China, Ren Hang's photographs were subversive portrayals of queerness. I'm very moved and saddened by his death. He had a very unique and sometimes comical vision, his art was very touching and personal.
Ian @youngtilapia :
I was flipping through his book at Skylight yesterday. Quickly turning the pages because I found them more shocking than Terry Richardson's work. Shocking because one spread would be a beautiful image of a person, and the next spread is that same person in an sexually aggressive situation. It's very inspiring to me because he works with simple elements, i.e the nude with a single prop, like an octopus or cherries and lets his creativity run wild. His work is instantly recognizable, which is the mark of a great artist.
I remember seeing Ren Hang's work and immediately having this strong magnetism to it. Hang's poetic compositions and languid forms brought recollections of deep longing and a lasting reservoir of despair. As a mixed Asian American woman these photos created a weight of understanding within my own depression. Where one feeling isn't purely linked to one thing, just as each of his pictures play off one another, to create an expansive, ghostly exploration into the vessels which are the bodies we occupy.
I think I first came across Ren Hang's work from Zioxla's Strange Plants II book. Hang unapologetically showed Chinese bodies how he saw them. Bare, nude, in nature/ plants, with fashion, and with animals, his subjects were personal to him. He was able to be intimate and honest with his images, presenting viewers surreal scenes, notably in his way of incorporating optical illusions. I love the series of indoor images he made titled, "My mum" and how he turned the spotlight on the figure who presumably raised him.
Miles @milesfortune :
Ren Hang, besides the visceral unhinged content of his photographs, was so impossibly human, a unique point in time. It's such a shock to now know he had such pain because he expressed such joy in what anyone else, especially in art would (and likely does) find, an unbearable weight of possibility of human ability. Emotions are our ultimate reality, our corporeal being comes second, but it's what we have to work with and I think the late Ren Hang truly loved that.