“You have no idea how lucky you are, […] you have the internet, so you don’t have to feel alone…”
– King Cobra (2016)
Taschen’s “Ren Hang” was meant to be the official acme of an already successful career, even prior to the 29-year-old Chinese photographer’s death. He recently committed suicide, shocking the global photography community and leaving followers and estimators without a clue on why he took his own life. His unyielding vision and unquestionable talent, however, are well preserved within the photobook’s covers.
Leafing through the compendium, the viewer encounters surreal humans, belonging both to an erotic heaven and the libertine Dante’s Inferno; this oxymoronic incidence is present throughout the book and in Ren’s previous anthologies. Profound fetishes – from pissing to feet licking, from rimming to object penetration – are melded with deadpan facial expressions, as if presenting oddities in a matter-of-factly manner. There is no lust in the models’ eyes, but the arrangements carry innocent eroticism to say the least.
Ren Hang’s game with colors – in which reds are the main characters – play an interesting role; the hues serve as a bridge that binds the perception of heaven and hell, lathered in the language of eroticism.
“People come into this world naked and I consider naked bodies to be people’s original, authentic look. I feel the real existence of people through their naked bodies.”
– Ren Hang (2017), from the book’s foreword.
Melancholia is another recurring theme in Ren’s pictures, embodied by images that portray isolation while engaged in peculiar activities. Such shots are symbols of his documented battle with depression.
Furthermore, the element of eroticism magnifies his rebellion towards convention. In various interviews and publications, he has bemoaned conservative China’s view on nudity: presenting nakedness is associated with degradation and the demoralization of human nature. To them, the human body is simply not meant to be shown; it has to belong to one’s private sphere. Undeterred, he went on to pursue his vision, eventually sweeping the world of its feet with his stylish oddities.
All told, “Ren Hang” is an unconventional yet compelling window to the wide variety of quirks found in the aforementioned photographer’s mind. They may be too idiosyncratic for the uninitiated, but any viewer would rather throw a gaze at the images than look away.