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
Notable work
My Mum
Chinese name

Ren Hang (Chinese: 任航; March 30, 1987 – February 24, 2017) was a Chinese photographer and poet.[1][2][3] He was born in 1987, in a suburb of Changchun, Jilin province, in northeastern China.[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] Ren's erotic, playful and casual yet provocative expression gained him worldwide fame.


Early life[edit]

In 2007, in order to relieve the boredom of studying advertising at college, Ren bought a point-and-shoot camera and began shooting his friends.[6] 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. [7]

On February 24, 2017, Ren killed himself in Beijing.[3][8][9]



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.”[10] 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 marginalised people in Chinese society with gender identity disorders by 'indeterminating' sex and gender in some of his work: a group of naked bodies stacked together, 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.[11]


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. [12]

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[13]:


Life indeed is a
precious gift
but I often think

it seems sent to a wrong person [14]

Style and controversies[edit]

Though Ren denied his photography had style or meanings, the influence of Nan Goldin, Larry Clark and Robert Mapplethorpe can be seen in it.[citation needed]

Ren used a 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 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's works are sometimes misinterpreted by the public as pornography. Although some[according to whom?] have written that Ren used his photographs to challenge Chinese cultural norms of shame around nudity, Ren didn't 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 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]


  • Ren Hang 2009–2011. China: self-published, 2011.
  • Room. China: self-published, 2011.
  • Nude. China: self-published, 2012. Edition of 500 copies.
  • Poem Collection of Renhang. Taiwan: Neurasthenia, 2013.
  • My depression. China: self-published, 2013.
  • Republic. Norway: LIC, 2013.
  • Son and bitch. Taiwan: Neurasthenia, 2013.
  • The brightest light runs too fast. France: Editions Bessard, 2013.
  • 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.[15]
  • New Love 新欢. USA: Sessio, 2015.
  • 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.
  • 二月 February. China: self-published, 2016.
  • Athens Love 雅典的爱. USA: Session, 2016.
  • Word or two 只言片語. USA: BHKM, 2017.


Solo exhibitions


  • 2010 October, Intercourse with Beijing, Yugong Yishan live house, Beijing, China
  • 2010 July, Eat Naked Lunch!, yuyintang live house, Shanghai, China


  • 2011 October, Stillbirth, Yugong Yishan live house, Beijing, China
  • 2011 October, Allergy, Kubrick, Beijing, China


  • 2013 May, Pulse, Galerie Jane Zhang, Frankfurt, Germany


  • 2014 December–January, HIDE, Soy Sauce Factory, Bangkok, Thailand
  • 2014 September, Anatomy of the image, 104 Kléber Gallery, Paris, France
  • 2014 August–October, Physical borderline 身体的边界, Three shadows +3 gallery, Beijing, China
  • 2014 June, In addition to sleep, Copenhagen Photo Festival, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • 2014 April–May, In addition to sleep, Vasli Souza gallery, Malmo, Sweden
  • 2014 January -March, La chine a nue nue gallery, Paris Pantin, France


  • 2015 September–October, Tokyo, matchbaco Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
  • 2015 June–July, NEW LOVE 新欢, matchbaco Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
  • 2015 June–July, 形态 Morphology, HDM Gallery, Hangzhou, China
  • 2015 April–June, Occupy Atopos #Ren Hang, Atopos cvc, Athens, Greece
  • 2015 March–May, In Presence of Ren Hang, Stieglitz 19 Gallery, Antwerp, Belgium
  • 2015 March–June, 野生, OstLicht Gallery, Vienna, Austria
  • 2015 March–April, Ren Hang 2014,Capricious 88 Gallery, New York, USA
  • 2015 January–February, MY MUM, Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong, China


  • 2016 June–July, What we do is secret, MAMA Gallery, Los Angeles, USA
  • 2016 March–April, Athens Love, Klein Sun Gallery, New York, USA
  • 2016 March, 白日升天, Modernsky Lab, Beijing, China


  • 2017 January–March, Naked / Nude, Foam Photography Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • 2017 February–April, Human Love, Fotografiska museum, Stockholm, Sweden

Group exhibitions


  • 2009 December, 80’s and Peaceful Evolution visual group exhibition, Hong Kong, China
  • 2009 September, Femininity. Photography—international photography exhibition ‘paradise with love’feminity theme photography exhibition, Nanjing, China
  • 2009 August, Private talk, Shanghai, China
  • 2009 June, Gender Divisity, Songzhuang Art Area, Beijing, China


  • 2010 December, The third Terna contemporary art exhibition, Rome, Milan, Italy
  • 2010 December, Warmth 2010 -2011 new year art exhibition, Shanghai, China
  • 2010 November, New photography magazine photography exhibition, Hong Kong, China
  • 2010 August, 798 festival young THis this is me with attitude photography exhibition, Beijing, China
  • 2010 June, The first international art contemporary festival of China ji me, Xiamen, China
  • 2010 May, Into the mood, Hong Kong, China
  • 2010 April, China Caochangdi photography Toratoratora photography exhibition, Caochangdi Arts District, Beijing, China
  • 2010 April, Experiment 2010 Screenage art document exhibition, Songzhuang Art Museum, Beijing, China


  • 2011 December, FéROCES international photography festival 2011, France
  • 2011 November, Restaurant Light Room photography exhibition, J Gallery, Shanghai, China
  • 2011 October, Sour sweet bitter spicy—four photographers’ exhibition, Angers, France
  • 2011 August, Rencontres d'Arles festival -The viewer exhibition, Arles, France
  • 2011 July, Recurrent shadows—selected works from three shadows photography Awards 2008-2011, HE XIANG NING art museum, Shenzhen, China
  • 2011 May, Young Movement, Iseael
  • 2011 May, The fourth 54 international young art festival 2011, 798 art area, Beijing, China
  • 2011 April, Three shadows photography award, Three shadows photography art centre, Beijing, China
  • 2011 January, Curated by Rong Rong –Qiu&Ren Hang INner ear, UCCA, Beijing, China


  • 2012 September, Secret Love, Oriental Museum in Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden
  • 2012 September, Memory Lost and Found, Beijing Space Beijing, China
  • 2012 July, Central Academy of Fine Arts First CAFAM future development, CAFA Art Museum, Beijing, China
  • 2012 July, Féroces Ren Hang / Jordane Yarden Gaudenzi Double photographic exhibition, Avi Niang silk, France
  • 2012 May, Originate from energy resource, Multimedia Art Museum Moscow, Moscow, Russia
  • 2012 March, Symptoms, Iberia Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China


  • 2013 November, Lian Zhou Foto 2013 -Curatorial Theme: Farewell to Experience, Lian Zhou, China
  • 2013 November–December, The 2nd Conceptual Film Photography Show F518 Idea Land, Shenzhen, China
  • 2013 November–December, True Panic- Photography Exhibition, Bowl Island Gallery, Beijing, China
  • 2013 November, Photo Off—4th Edition La Bellevilloise, Paris, France
  • 2013 October–December, 1st Beijing photo biennial: Aura and Post Aura, China Millennium Monument, Beijing, China
  • 2013 October, ENTER Network real-time exhibition, Museum of Contemporary Art in Shanghai, Shanghai, China
  • 2013 September, Unseen Photo Fair, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • 2013 July–September, Faceless part 1, Museums Quartier, Vienna, Austria
  • 2013 July–September, Atypical, Beijing Space, Beijing, China
  • 2013 August, As the resident artist by invitation of Vienna Museums Quartier
  • 2013 May, Fuck Off 2 Chinese Contemporary Art Document, Groninger Museum, Netherlands
  • 2013 March, A Miscellany of Arts---The Visual Rhetoric of the Young Generation,Jinji lake art Museums, Suzhou, China
  • 2013 March, Remote olaces, close spaces, Street Level Photoworks Gallery, Scotland, UK
  • 2012 January, Equal relationships, Bilndspot Gallery, HongKong, China
  • 2013 January, Fuck Taboo, Camera16 Gallery, Milan, Italy


  • 2014 November, Paris Photo, Grand Palais, Pairs, France
  • 2014 November, Second Yuandian Contemporary Photography Festival, Ukiyo-phase, Yuandian Art Museum, Beijing, China
  • 2014 November, Staging Encounters-Ten Years Of Contemporary Photography in China LIANZHOUPHOTO FESTIVAL, Lianzhou, China
  • 2014 October - November, c/o Umbria World Fest Palazzo Trinci, Foligno, Italy
  • 2014 September, Let it Louder, Sanlitun village orange Hall, Beijing, China
  • 2014 September–October, Contemporary photography in China 2009-2014, Minsheng art museum, Shanghai, China
  • 2014 August - September, New frontiers in contemporary photography, Tryffel Grisen Gallery, Stockholm, Sweden
  • 2014 July, Arles photo festival, le Magasin de Jouets Gallery, Arles, France
  • 2014 June, Photolggendo, Via Del Commercio 13, Rome, Italy
  • 2014 June, Artvilnius '14 International Contemporary Art Fair Congress center in Vilnius, Lithuania
  • 2014 March–April, Three shadows first experimental image open exhibition, Three shadows photography art centre, Beijing, China
  • 2014 April–May, New photos since 2009, Wuhan Art Museum, Wuhan, China
  • 2014 April, Art brussels, stieglitz19, Belgium
  • 2014 January, Faceless Stichting Mediamatic, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • 2014 January, Chinese spring, stieglitz19, Belgium


  • 2015 November – 2016 January, From Old Ground, Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, Bathurst, Australia.
  • 2015 November – 2016 January, Medium of Desire: An International Anthology of Photography and Video, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, United States
  • 2015 November, Contemporary Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
  • 2015 October, Chinese photography: twentieth century and before, Three shadows photography art centre, Beijing, China
  • 2015 September, Art International Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
  • 2015 September, Yesterday We Wanted To Be The Sky,Kamarade Gallery, Stockholm, Sweden
  • 2015 July, New Chinese photography forces-Three Shadows Phatography Center at Tsumari, Echigo-Tsumari Art Festival, Tokyo Japan
  • 2015 June - August, Three shadows second experimental image open exhibition, Three shadows photography art centre, Beijing, China
  • 2015 June Photo Basel, Basel, Switzerland
  • 2015 May Paris Photo, L.A, United States
  • 2015 May Paris Photo, Brussels, Belgium
  • 2015 May Art Miami New York, Miami, United States
  • 2015 May–August Portrait of the World, Barbado Gallery, Lisbon, Portugal
  • 2015 April–June Temporary Boundary, Paris Beijing Gallery, Brussels, Belgium
  • 2015 March Art Paris art fair, Paris, France
  • 2015 January–February Yangon Photo Festival, Yangon, Myanmar
  • 2015 January, Three shadows +3 gallery Annual Exhibition, Three shadows +3 gallery, Beijing, China
  • 2015 January–February, Faceless De Markten, Brussels, Belgium


  • 2016 October, DaikanYama Photo Fair, Tokyo, Japan
  • 2016 September, ZsONAMACO Foto, Centro Banamex, Mexico City, Mexico
  • 2016 September, Austria's International Art Fair, Vienna, Austria
  • 2016 August, Sensitive Surface Exhibition, Malmö, Sweden
  • 2016 August, Photo Collect Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Danmark
  • 2016 June, f/stop Photography Festival, Leipzig, Germany
  • 2016 May, London Art Fair, London, UK
  • 2016 May, Tokyo Art Fair, Tokyo, Japan
  • 2016 March, ART PARIS ART FAIR, Paris, France
  • 2016 January–February, LOIVE, matchbaco Gallery, Tokyo, Japan


  • 2017 January–March, Beauty Without Beards, KWM artcenter, Beijing, China
  • 2017 February-April, Human Love, Fotografiska, Stockholm, Sweden



  1. ^ "Ren Hang - Artists - Klein Sun Gallery". 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. "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". Retrieved 2017-03-02.
  5. ^ "The banned Chinese photographer on show in Paris". Retrieved 2017-02-25.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "My Depression". Archived from the original on 2017-02-22. Retrieved 2018-09-14.
  8. ^ Wong, Tessa (28 February 2017). "Death of China's hotshot erotic photographer". BBC News. Retrieved 2018-09-03.
  9. ^ Genova, Alexandra. "Controversial Chinese Photographer Ren Hang Dies at 29". Time. Retrieved 2018-09-03.
  10. ^ "Tribute to Ren Hang". Taschen. 19 May 2017. Retrieved 2017-05-19.
  11. ^ "The Complete Guide To What's Inside Frank Ocean's Magazine". The Fader. Retrieved 2017-10-21.
  12. ^ Word or two 只言片語. USA: BHKM, 2017.
  13. ^ and renowned Chinese photographer Ren Hang dies aged 29
  14. ^ My depression at
  15. ^ "Ren Hang: 野生", Dienacht. Accessed 30 October 2017.

External links[edit]