REN HANG and his forbidden images – A Interview

Ren Hang, one of China’s most influencial and controversial photographers, has died at 29 of suicide. Known for his provocative pictures and poetry, Ren’s work had been exhibited in galleries all over the world, from Russia, France, Sweden, to the US or the UK, with an exception of China, where his photographs were often banned due to its nudity, general provocativeness and depiction of underground culture. I met Ren Hang in Vienna at the gallery Ostlicht one and half year ago ahead of his photography show  野生 to interview him exclusively for KALTBLUT Magazine.

KALTBLUT:  Your intimate photographs directly challenge moral and social taboos in China by exploring the human body and sexuality. What fascinates you about human body in general?
RH: To me being naked is very natural. People come into this world naked and I consider naked bodies as original and authentic. I feel the real existence of people through their naked bodies.mWhen you  shoot naked photographs you need to build a trust first. This is essential to my photography.

KALTBLUT: Are your models your friends then?
RH: Most of the models are my friends. I like shooting my friends because they trust me, which makes me feel more comfortable. Some are not models at all, but they need to build trust first.I can only take my best work when I’m in that state.

KALTBLUT: What is more tempting, the male or female body?
RH: It doesn’t matter.

KALTBLUT: What is your connection to nature, as you very often choose nature for your settings.
RH: The nature and the nakedness are connected. To me being naked is very natural. That is why it is easy to photograph both. There are no boundaries and no forbidden things.

KALTBLUT: You are not one of those activist artists like Ai Weiwei pointing your photography at human rights and oppression in China. Yet the Chinese government censors your work. What is their problem with your photography?
RH: I am not interested in politics, but the politicians are interested in me. My work is not about politics, it’s about nudity and China doesn’t allow outdoor nudity. That’s why the Chinese government wants to limit me. Of course I don’t want to go to prison so I’m very careful about taking pictures outside but on the other hand, there is no way to fix that.

KALTBLUT: Would you move somewhere else to enjoy freedom?
RH: I like China. I am travelling all around the world but I wouldn’t move outside of China. I am very much used to living in China. ….and my friends are in China!

KALTBLUT: You are originally from Changchun—the capital of the northeastern Jilin Province in China. When did you move to Beijing?
RH: In 2006.

KALTBLUT: …to study photography?
RH: No, I don’t have any formal art school training behind me, and it was never my desire. I studied Communications and Marketing. Since the studies were boring to me, I decided to shoot instead.

KALTBLUT: When did you start photography as a full-time artist?
RH: In 2008.

KALTBLUT: How does your usual shooting day look like? How do you select the location?
RH: I never make a plan. I simply go somewhere and if I find the place nice I start to shoot there.

KALTBLUT: What about the roof top photos? The setting looks a bit dangerous to me.
RH: The rooftop is in the house where my friend is living. It has a great view and looks amazing, so I decided to do a photoshoot there. The rooftop is really dangerous. I like to make people feel bit of adrenaline.

KALTBLUT: You place your friends models into very unusual arrangements and twisted poses creating sculptural objects out of human bodies. Either your friends must have very flexible bodies or be professionals in yoga or you must be a master of achieving the seemingly impossible. How do you achieve such results with the people making them do these seemingly complicated poses?
RH: I don’t take photos with any particular plan.  I just grasp whatever comes into my mind, arrange that in front of me and take a photo of it. The poses might look a bit complicated but they are not in fact.

KALTBLUT: You are also a poet (e.g. ‘The brightest light runs too fast’). What are your poems mainly about?
RH: About sex and cocks, things like this. But also unhappiness of life.

KALTBLUT: Have you ever thought of combining your photography with poetry, in other words fusing texts and images together?  
RH: No, for me they are separated. There is no connection between my photography and poetry.

KALTBLUT: What is your opinion on sex?
RH: Just fuck!

All pictures kindly proved by Ostlicht gallery and last photography by Gregor Kallina.

Instagram: @renhangrenhang