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Ren Hang (photographer)

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Ren Hang
BornMarch 30, 1987
DiedFebruary 24, 2017 (aged 29)
Beijing, China
Known forPhotographs about nudity, gender and homosexuality
Chinese name

Ren Hang (Chinese: 任航; March 30, 1987 – February 24, 2017) was a Chinese photographer and poet.[1][2][3]

During Ren's incipient career, he was known mostly for nude photographic portraits of his friends. His work is significant for its representation of Chinese sexuality within a heavily censored society. For these erotic undertones, he was arrested by PRC authorities several times.[2] He received the backing of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who included Ren in his 2013 Netherlands show, Fuck Off 2 The Sequel, and curated the photographer's 2014 exhibition in Paris, France.[4][5] "The images are fresh, but also empty and superficial. They contain a deep sadness within", commented by Ai Weiwei on Ren's artworks.[6] Ren's erotic, playful and casual yet provocative expression gained him worldwide fame and recognition.



Early life


Ren was born in 1987, in a suburb of Changchun, Jilin province, in northeastern China.[3]

In 2007, in order to relieve the boredom of studying advertising at college, he bought a point-and-shoot camera and began photographing his friends.[7] As a self-taught photographer, he said his style of photography was inspired by the artist Shūji Terayama.[2]



Ren suffered from depression. He posted a series of diary entries titled "My depression" on his blog, recording the fear, anxiety and internal conflicts he experienced. [8] On January 27, 2017, which is also the eve of the Chinese New Year, Ren posted his last Weibo, saying that "every year my wish is always the same: to die earlier."[6] Ren died by suicide on February 24, 2017, in Beijing.[3][9][10]





Ren first began taking pictures of his roommates and friends in 2007, shooting them in the nude as all were close and seeking excitement. In an interview, he also admitted: "I usually shoot my friends, because strangers make me nervous."[2] He arranged his subjects' naked limbs in his photographs.

Ren 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."[11] This may account for his reticence to limit his work to indoor settings. He said there were no preferred places for him to work, as he believed anywhere was beautiful and worthy to be shot, including sparse studios, parks, forests, and atop buildings. Ren's photos employ nude groups and solo portraits of men and women often contorted into highly performative positions.[2] For example, hands reach down milky thighs, a limp penis flops onto a watermelon and a series of backsides imitate a mountain range.

Questioning the purpose of his work, he once stated that his creation was 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 work. 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." Ren also focused on gender-noncomforming and transgender people in Chinese society by 'indeterminating' sex and gender in some of his work: a group of naked bodies stacked together, people shot from behind, men wearing silk stockings and wearing lipstick. He denied having a preference in models: "Gender… only matters to me when I'm having sex." The international quarterly photography journal Aperture used his photo as the cover for its "Queer" theme. Commentators also see his work, the naked body and the starched[vague] penis, as evolving sexual mores and the struggle for creative and sexual freedom in a conservative, tightly controlled society.[citation needed] But Ren also announced "I don't try to get a message across, I don't give my works names, I don't date them. I don't want to instill them with any vocabulary. I don't like to explain my photos or work as a whole".[4]

It has been mentioned[by whom?] that Ren's work is softcore pornography because of the degree of nudity and sex in it, but he also worked with other themes. The most famous was titled "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 clothed model, in a light-hearted way to represent her daily life. Ren's photographs have been included in magazines L'Officiel, GQ Style, and Vice. He worked with fashion companies Gucci, Rick Owens, and Loewe.[citation needed] Ren's work is included in Frank Ocean's magazine Boys Don't Cry.[12]

Ren also kept a personal photo collection titled I Hate My Past and I Don't Want to Know My Future that featured portraits of every person he met, as well as ornaments like used condoms, hair, or mark-making to go with each photo.[13]



Ren published his first English translated collection of his poetry in January 2017 by BHKM, New York, which selectively contained his poems from 2007 to 2016 named Word or two, and a collection of poetry in Chinese by Neurasthenia, Taiwan, which contained his poems from 2007 to 2013 named Poem Collection of Renhang. This poetry is mainly about his enthusing emotions on describing the ideal love and life with lovers as well as the fear and loneliness when losing loves. The emotional erotic poetry usually comprises a handful of short lines, the tone ranging from humorous to sensual to dark. Here is an extract from a 2016 poem called Love:


My kisses compactly join as a line, like the snake swims around each rugged reef on your trembling body, then you turn into the snake, I turn into the reef, and then we turn into snakes, intertwining together, we turn into reefs, striking each other.

Inside the bedroom filed with our fingerprints, those fingerprints keep enlarging, turn into growth rings, turn into mazes. We are lost with the whole world.[14]

Ren Hang also expressed his homosexual experiences and identity in his poem collection published in 2016 by the independent publishing house EDITIONS BESSARD. Here is a poem written by Ren in 2008:[15]

If You Were Homosexual

If I were heterosexual, then I'll have sex reassignment surgery

If I were gay, that would be so great

Throughout his life, he endured a long battle with depression, an experience he would often document on his website under a menu item titled My Depression. Here he recorded, sometimes in the form of poetry, his inner struggles against depression, including frequent hallucinations and hearing voices. In one poem, he wrote:[16]


Life indeed is a
precious gift
but I often think

it seems sent to a wrong person[17]

Style and controversies


Ren Hang is noted to be greatly influenced by Chinese and Asian contemporary art and in particular, Japanese photographer and contemporary artist Nobuyoshi Araki,[18] as well as the Japanese poet, film director, and photographer Shuji Terayama.[19]

Ren Hang mainly worked with a simple point-and-shoot camera. He would direct the models as to how to place their bodies and shoot in quick succession. Genitalia, breasts and anuses were not covered up, but featured, or accentuated with props and close-ups. Colors were rich and high in contrast, increasing visual impact. This, along with the fact all bodies were slim, lithe and relatively hairless, made the impact of his photographs more impressive. His work communicated a raw, stark aesthetic that countered taboos and celebrated sexuality. Someone[according to whom?] concluded it was this contemporary form of poeticism in a visual context in which Ren Hang expressed themes of identity, the body, love, loss and death.[4]

Nudity is not a theme in art which can be widely accepted by the Chinese older generation. Ren Hang's works are sometimes misinterpreted by the public as pornography. Although some[according to whom?] have written that Ren Hang used his photographs to challenge Chinese cultural norms of shame around nudity, he did not believe he was challenging the stereotype and leading a revolution. For him, nudity and sexuality are natural themes which he used in his work.

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. If it was already like that, then it's not a revolution. I just photographed things on their more natural conditions.[citation needed]

He said he was not trying to liberate nudity and sexuality since he believed that the Chinese young generation was open-minded and less affected by the old-fashioned cultures. When Ren Hang talked about the question whether the topic of sexuality was still a taboo in China, he said:

I don't think it's related to our times, these are individual cases. Like how to say it, I think it depends on different people, it doesn't really relate to other things. I was not in the whole parents told you that you can only have sex if you get married era. The time after I grow up was already over that period, it was already different like everyone was already more relaxed.[citation needed]


  • I've got a Little Problem (2017) – documentary directed by Ximing Zhang, 44 min[20]
    Trailer 1,[21] Trailer 2,[22]


  • Ren Hang 2009–2011. China: self-published, 2011.
  • Room. China: self-published, 2011. Edition of 600 copies.
  • Nude. China: self-published, 2012. Edition of 500 copies.
  • Republic. Norway: Éditions du LIC, 2012. Edition of 500 numbered copies.
  • Poem Collection of Renhang. Taiwan: Neurasthenia, 2013.
  • My depression. China: self-published, 2013.
  • Son and bitch. Taiwan: Neurasthenia, 2013.
  • The brightest light runs too fast. France: Editions Bessard, 2013. Edition of 500 copies. Issued with signed C-Print.
  • Physical borderline. China: ThreeShadows +3 Gallery, 2014.
  • Food issue. China: Same studio, 2015.
  • 野生 = Wild. Germany, Die Nacht, 2015. Edition of 600 copies. A collection of unbound posters "published in conjunction with the exhibition Ren Hang / 野生 at OstLicht Gallery, Vienna," 2015.[23]
  • New Love 新欢. USA: Session 6, Session Press, 2015. Edition of 500 copies.
  • 上海游客 Shanghai Visitors. China: self-published, 2015.
  • 海鲜派对 Seafood Party. China: self-published, 2015.
  • 一月 January. China: self-published, 2016. Edition of 100 copies.
  • 二月 February. China: self-published, 2016. Edition of 100 copies.
  • March. China: self-published, 2016. Edition of 100 copies.
  • April. China: self-published, 2016. Edition of 100 copies.
  • May. China: self-published, 2016. Edition of 100 copies.
  • June. China: self-published, 2016. Edition of 100 copies.
  • July. China: self-published, 2016. Edition of 100 copies.
  • August. China: self-published, 2016. Edition of 100 copies.
  • September. China: self-published, 2016. Edition of 100 copies.
  • October. China: self-published, 2016. Edition of 100 copies.
  • November. China: self-published, 2016. Edition of 100 copies.
  • Athens Love 雅典的爱. USA: Session 8, Session Press, 2016. Edition of 500 copies
  • Word or two 只言片語. USA: BHKM, 2017.
  • BAO. Sweden: Totem Collective in collaboration with Ren Hang, published posthum, 5. March 2017,[24][25][26][27]

Solo exhibitions

  • In Addition to Sleep, Fotogallerie vaslisouza, Oslo, 2014[28]
  • Hide by Ren Hang, MOST 2414 & MOST Gallery, Soy Sauce Factory, Bangkok, 2014/15[29]
  • In Addition to Sleep, Copenhagen Photo Festival, Copenhagen, Denmark, curated by Fotogallerie vaslisouza, 2014[30]
  • The Wild, OstLicht [de], Vienna, Austria, 2015[31]
  • Ren Hang, 2014, Gallery Capricious 88, 88 Eldridge Street, 5th FL, New York, USA, March 6 – April 5, 2015[32][33][34][35][36]
  • #OccupyAtopos exhibition, part of the artist residency program, ATOPOS cvc, Athens, Apr 22 - Jun 17, 2015 [37]
  • Athens Love, Klein Sun Gallery, New York, 2015[38]
  • Naked/Nude, Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam, Amsterdam, 2017[39]
  • Human Love, Fotografiska, Stockholm, Sweden, 2017[40]
  • Ren Hang, posthum, Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig, Germany, coop. w. OstLicht, Vienna, 2017/18[41]
  • Love, Ren Hang, posthum, Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, 2019;[42] C/O Berlin, Berlin, 2019/20[43]
  • Ren Hang. Nudi, posthum, Centro per l'arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci, Prato, Italy, 2020[44]


  • 2010: Third Terna Contemporary Art Award, Italy[45]
  • 2016: Outset|Unseen Exhibition Fund[46]


  1. ^ "Ren Hang - Artists - Klein Sun Gallery". kleinsungallery.com. Retrieved 2017-02-25.
  2. ^ a b c d e Seymour, Tom (2017-02-24). "Controversial and renowned Chinese photographer Ren Hang dies aged 29". British Journal of Photography. Retrieved 2018-09-15.
  3. ^ a b c Quin, Amy (4 March 2017). "Ren Hang, Provocative Chinese Photographer, Dies at 29". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  4. ^ a b c "Ren Hang at Foam: The Must-See NSFW Exhibition - The Public House of Art". publichouseofart.com. Archived from the original on 2017-02-26. Retrieved 2017-03-02.
  5. ^ "The banned Chinese photographer on show in Paris". phaidon.com. Retrieved 2017-02-25.
  6. ^ a b Chen, Shuxia (2018). "Ren Hang: Bodies Without Redemption". In Ivan Franceschini; Nicholas Loubere (eds.). Gilded Age. ANU Press. pp. 200–205. ISBN 9781760461980. JSTOR j.ctvgd1hr.44.
  7. ^ Kupper, Oliver Maxwell (June 28, 2016). "What we do is secret: An interview with controversial and provocative Chinese photographer Ren Hang". Autre. Retrieved September 15, 2018.
  8. ^ "My Depression". renhang.com. Archived from the original on 2017-02-22. Retrieved 2018-09-14.
  9. ^ Wong, Tessa (28 February 2017). "Death of China's hotshot erotic photographer". BBC News. Retrieved 2018-09-03.
  10. ^ Genova, Alexandra. "Controversial Chinese Photographer Ren Hang Dies at 29". Time. Retrieved 2018-09-03.
  11. ^ "Tribute to Ren Hang". Taschen. 19 May 2017. Retrieved 2017-05-19.
  12. ^ "The Complete Guide To What's Inside Frank Ocean's Magazine". The Fader. Retrieved 2017-10-21.
  13. ^ "I Hate My Past and I Don't Want to Know My Future: The presence of Ren Hang". The Indy. Retrieved 2022-09-27.
  14. ^ Word or two 只言片語. USA: BHKM, 2017.
  15. ^ Ren, Hang (2016). Poems: Ren Hang. Beijing: Editions Bessard. p. 42. ISBN 9791091406376.
  16. ^ "Controversial and renowned Chinese photographer Ren Hang dies aged 29 - 1854 Photography". www.bjp-online.com. Retrieved February 27, 2022.
  17. ^ My depression at http://www.renhang.org.
  18. ^ Anglès, Daphné (5 March 2019). "Ren Hang's Provocative Photographs Show a China We Rarely See". The New York Times.
  19. ^ Shuxia, Chen (2018). "Ren Hang: Bodies Without Redemption". Gilded Age (ANU Press). JSTOR j.ctvgd1hr.44. Retrieved 13 November 2021.
  20. ^ "Movie 2017, I've got a Little Problem, DVD for education". cinemaguild.com. Retrieved 2019-03-06.
  21. ^ "Movie 2017, I've got a Little Problem, Trailer 1". YouTube. Retrieved 2019-03-06.
  22. ^ "Movie 2017, I've got a Little Problem, Trailer 2". YouTube. Retrieved 2019-03-06.
  23. ^ "Ren Hang: Wild 野生", Dienacht. Accessed 30 October 2017.
  24. ^ Book BAO", Totem Collective x Ren Hang, Page 1, Accessed 09 July 2022.
  25. ^ Book BAO", Totem Collective x Ren Hang, Page 2, Accessed 09 July 2022.
  26. ^ Book BAO", Totem Collective in collaboration with Ren Hang, book published on issuu.com. Accessed 09 July 2022.
  27. ^ Book BAO", Totem Collective x Ren Hang | "BAO" Viewing, event, 5. March 2017. Accessed 09 July 2022.
  28. ^ "FOTOGALLERIE vaslisouza". Retrieved 2019-12-26.
  29. ^ "MOST 2414". Retrieved 2015-09-10.
  30. ^ "KONTORprojects". Archived from the original on 2019-12-26. Retrieved 2019-12-26.
  31. ^ "OstLicht Gallery". Retrieved 2019-12-26.
  32. ^ "Gallery Capricious 88, New York". Archived from the original on 2015-03-05. Retrieved 2022-11-22.
  33. ^ "Ren Hang: 2014 Press Release – Gallery Capricious 88" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2022-11-22. Retrieved 2022-11-22.
  34. ^ "Gallery Capricious 88 renamed itself to Company Gallery". Archived from the original on 2015-07-05. Retrieved 2022-11-22.
  35. ^ "Company Gallery, Ren Hang: 2014 2014". companygallery.us. Retrieved 2022-07-07.
  36. ^ "Gallery Capricious 88, announcement card, Ren Hang 2014, exhibition in 2015". Archived from the original on 2023-09-18. Retrieved 2023-09-18.
  37. ^ "ATOPOScvc". Retrieved 2023-01-30.
  38. ^ "Klein Sun Gallery". Retrieved 2019-12-26.
  39. ^ "foam". Retrieved 2019-12-26.
  40. ^ "Fotografiska Stockholm". Retrieved 2019-12-26.
  41. ^ "MUSEUM DER BILDENDEN KÜNSTE LEIPZIG Germany". Retrieved 2019-12-26.
  42. ^ "Maison Européenne de la Photographie". 6 March 2019. Retrieved 2019-12-26.
  43. ^ "C/O Berlin Foundation". Retrieved 2019-12-07.
  44. ^ "Centro per l'arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci, Prato, Italy". Retrieved 2021-12-15.
  45. ^ https://www.arshake.com/en/premio-terna-03-%E2%80%A2-2010/
  46. ^ "Ren Hang | Past exhibition". www.foam.org. Retrieved February 27, 2022.