Ren Hang

A Distant but Unfaded Memory

May 1, 2017

Gwyneth Chen

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Red lips, pale skin, the camera shone on their glistening bare skin.

Naked.

Vulnerable.

This vulnerability is something that China is unfamiliar with. This acceptance of less than perfection is something that China wants to stir away from and has been doing so for some time now. We see it in the news of every presidential visit, of every "current event" story, and we only sought to embrace the traditions of Chinese culture, never seeking to accept the novelty or trying the unexpected.

Ren Hang was a Chinese photographer whose constant goal of seeking the unexpected inspired many. In China, he brought the possibility that his country would escape out of conservatism — of the same constant repetitions of life.  To others, who are ethnically chinese but lived in other parts of the world, he encouraged an embracement of their roots and to connect their current culture with their past one.

His collection of photographs  of naked models and his friends take in groups or individually,  explored explicit sexuality and queerness inevitably pushing the limits of conservative China. Especially in this highly censored country, his body of work played an important role of exploring a taboo-esque type of photography and gave voice to the LGBTQ community, which had been and still continues to be suppressed and looked down upon on.

For me, I never really understood photography nor the struggles of living in a conservative society. My discovery of Hang was accidental, just like my intentions of understanding the culture of my ancestry. And so, the beginnings of trying to understand myself and my ancestry started off through an article on Vogue Italia. I was sitting in RISD and browsing through the site when the headlines "Remembering Ren Hang" caught my eyes. Normally, I wouldn't mind the articles and would just skip over to look at the photos; however the word "Remembering" and a Chinese sounding name caught my eyes. What struck me the most was that I was looking back at a young but troubled looking man. He was about 30 and had dark grey soulless eyes. This was Ren Hang. This was the man who committed suicide earlier. And from that point, I began to discover a hidden world of photography, but more importantly, of my ancestry and myself.

Unfortunately, his death and my discovery of him never were apart by a day and I will never get to meet him; however his works in poetry and his bold photography will continue to play a large role in the Asian and photography communities.

You can find these pictures and more on his Instagram or his website.