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Remembering Ren Hang: Chinese Photographers on the Fourth Anniversary of His Death

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Photosensitive is a monthly RADII column that focuses on Chinese photographers who are documenting modern trends, the youth and society in China. 

Ren Hang was one of the most influential Chinese photographers in recent years. With his startling photos, which had a strong focus on sexuality and members of the LGBTQ+ community, he showed an image of Chinese youth that had rarely been seen before.

Tragically he took his own life in 2017, at just 29 years old, but left a massive legacy, and store of photographs for old and new fans of his work to explore.

Today, February 24, marks four years since his death. He would have been 33 years old, nearing his 34th birthday.

Here’s a selection of some of his photographs taken from Instagram, while below we share the thoughts of some of today’s most prominent Chinese photographers for their take on how he influenced their work and also Chinese photography in general.

Lin Zhipeng

Guangdong-born and Beijing-based, Lin Zhipeng is a leading figure of new Chinese photography.

We knew each other when he just started to take photos. I could see he get into his own style quickly and obviously. He focused on a very specific shooting style and content, mostly of Chinese young people, nude and showing some kind of freedom. Now in China, many young photographers are influenced by him and were influenced to start using a camera to make a diary of their lives. I don’t know how to express how deep he influenced them, but he has many fans in photography world, especially young photographers.

Luo Yang

One of China’s leading photographic voices, Luo Yang’s work focuses on women and Chinese youth born from the 1980s onwards.

I think he first took nude photography and photography of homosexuality and other minority groups to the extreme. This is why he is not only important in China but also around the world. I think he brought great courage to young people to shoot and express themselves, and to create their own style. He also allowed young people in the country and the art world to see the possibility of young Chinese artists on the international stage.

Related:

Interview: Photographer Luo Yang is the Queen of China’s Beautiful Youth

Chen Ronghui

A photojournalist turned art photographer currently studying at Yale in the US. 

To some extent, the Western art world has always misread Ren Hang and have treated his works with a stereotypical view. His work is not an external resistance to political forces, but actually an expression of internal freedom. He used photography to express himself, and he had long surpassed ideology. What he cared about is not politics, but poetry.

Coca Dai

Shanghai-based photographer who made a photo book to commemorate Ren Hang’s life. 
When I met you, you were still in college and you just started taking pictures.  You started publishing picture albums a few years ago, and you would send me every issue, and your nudes have become very popular in Europe. Last year (2016), it was agreed that you would come to Shanghai to take nude portraits at our house. You like taking pictures and writing poems. You always use the same model of camera, and the same film to take pictures.
— taken from a WeChat post to commemorate Ren Hang, published four days after his death

Cover image — “October” by Ren Hang (2016), taken from Instagram

Bryan Grogan
    Bryan is RADII's Culture Editor. He is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with an interest in culture stories with a social bent. He once correctly guessed all 151 original Pokemon in seven minutes for an online quiz.