Ren Hang’s Powerful Photographs Show a Different Side of China

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Ren Hang photography peacock naked nature China
Untitled, 2016© Courtesy of Estate of Ren Hang and stieglitz19

Opening in Paris, LOVE, Ren Hang covers all aspects of the Chinese photographer and poet’s work

Few photographers working today rival the power and poetry of the masterful Ren Hang. The Chinese photographer, who tragically took his own life in 2017, is famed for his compelling portrayals of the human body, which is often depicted naked, or in nature. Photographing his family, friends and people he connected with online, his images possess a sensuality and a serenity, and show a different side to China.

While Hang wasn’t politically motivated, his images railed against China’s censorship laws. (Pornography is illegal in China and those found guilty of producing or disseminating such material may be sentenced to life imprisonment. Hang himself was arrested on multiple occasions.) But his intention was never to challenge the political establishment; he simply created because he had to, doing so in the way he saw fit. “I don’t intentionally push boundaries,” he famously once said. “I just do what I do...”

Following his passing, there have been several exhibitions of his work, including one in the UK. Today, a new one opens – this time, at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, where the show opens in conjunction with Coco Capitán’s first major exhibitionBusy living everything with everyone, everywhere, all of the time. LOVE, Ren Hang seeks to cover all aspects of the late photographer and poet’s creative practice, with one room dedicated to his photographs of his mother, another to the images in which the colour red dominates, another to the pictures he took at night, and still another to his more provocative work.

The exhibition also shines a light on Hang’s relationship with the written word – specifically his poetry, which he posted on his website alongside his photography. These texts especially centre around his battle with depression – the illness which would eventually claim his life. “If life is a bottomless chasm, when I jump the endless fall will also be a way of flying,” reads an excerpt from one poem.

Though Hang is no longer with us, the exhibition proves that his unrivalled legacy of visionary photography and poetry remains, and will do for many generations to come.

LOVE, Ren Hang is at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, until May 5, 2019.