I was very sad to read last night that Chinese photographer Ren Hang passed away yesterday, at the age of 29.
I came across this young man’s work some 6 years ago, by chance on Flickr, and I’ve been following him ever since.
There are a number of things which fascinate me about his work. While staged, the photos are always unpretentious. He seemingly shot at whatever light he found, or using the camera’s flash, with point-and-shoot cameras, retaining an amateurish look far removed from that of sophisticated post-editing. His images can at times be sensuous, shocking, amusing and tender. Some, for all their nudity, are the opposite of sensuous. His work is, above all, highly original. They feature men and women in all kinds of combination, and while queer identity is never an issue of and by itself, the fact that his art is fluid in terms of sexuality, does make a point it about queer identify as well. A number of his photos can be deemed pornographic, which apparently led him get into conflict with Chinese authorities. He was getting more and more recognition in the west, with an increasing number of exhibitions and covers for international publications to his credit.
I do not know much about the man himself, and even the articles published since his death reveal scant information. He was suffering from depression, and committed suicide. It’s always tragic when young artists die: when you look at what they have achieved until now, you realise what more they could have achieved and what potential was lost. As it is, he has an impressive body of work, one that will be remembered by many, for a long time. I know I will be coming back to his art for a long time to come.
And I hope this young man finally found the peace he was looking for.
Here are a few links to his work:
This article was amended on 11 March to correct the place of death: he died in Beijing, and not in Berlin, as was stated by early postings to social media.