The 29-year-old releases a retrospective book featuring the controversial photographs that have seen him arrested in China yet gained him global notoriety
Admittedly, Ren Hang’s photography doesn’t have any particular purpose. He regularly denies being consciously controversial or political – in an interview with Tashen’s Sexy Books editor, Dian Hanson, for his new photo book, Ren Hang, he says, “I don’t really view my work as taboo, because I don’t think so much in cultural context, or political context. I don’t intentionally push boundaries, I just do what I do”. Interviewing him on this new release, the Beijing-based photographer preferred to let his work speak for him. When asked why now was the right time to release his first career-spanning book, he replied, “No particular reason”. Anywhere in the world he would particularly like to shoot? “No.” Is he frustrated that his work is always discussed in terms of being shocking? “It doesn’t really matter.”
Internationally known for his naked images, Ren is a subject of major controversy in China, where he has been arrested. Pornographic images have been banned in the People’s Republic of China since 1949 and the country does not allow for outdoor nudity. Despite this ruling, Ren often shoots his male and female subjects out in nature. These men and women, his friends, all have a slender figure in common. In the images, they become androgynous forms blurred into one, maximising the impact of the exposed genitalia and challenging the traditional perception of beauty in China.
The 29-year-old photographer, who suffers from cyclic depression, started taking photographs in 2007 because they made him happy. Shooting with a simple film camera Ren was initially drawn to shooting his friends at home after growing tired of his lifestyle studying advertising. Ren has since shown exhibitions across the world in cities such as Bangkok, Copenhagen, Hong Kong and New York. This book follows eight self-published monographs and is the first publication to showcase the full breadth of the photographer’s work. On the process of curation, Hanson says, “The design of the book was primarily for aesthetics, but also chronological, with Ren’s earliest works towards the beginning. After that, there is a grouping of like images, interrupted by jarring and surprising images, with blank pages interspersed to draw attention to particularly strong images.”
“Ren Hang” is published by Taschen and will be available to purchase from 20 January