Ren Hang, photography
Fondazione Sozzani, Milan
September 13, 2020 – November 29, 2020
Flesh, corpses, souls and bland flashlights, all composite into seconds or milliseconds of lights and shadows, projecting onto the film that never knows how to lie. Focus gathering and the shutter releasing, connecting his unpretentious, rebellious, wild and free perspectives towards the naked human body. The images look so natural, yet fun and unexpected. One soul after another all blossom like a newborn baby, urging to crawl out of his mother’s womb, dying to be redefined. In this era that we live in, being censored by the Chinese government has almost become a stamp of approval for contemporary artists. Ren Hang, a young man with a mature look and tanned skin, hair as short as a Chinese soldiers’, always carrying an irresistibly cute and innocent smile on his cheeks. He is, perhaps, the sole artist and photographer with the most edgy outlook towards the naked human body.
Who are you, without the label of a photographer?
I think I am quite a boring person without any interesting hobbies. Unless there is something worth doing, I would rather stay at home. But I do like a lot of things. Often, after doing things I love, like dancing, eating and drinking, at the end of the night nothing changes and it all feels empty in the end.
How do you see nudity?
Nudity is nudity. We see it every single day. To be honest I do not have any special opinions about it. I do intend to only shoot nudity.
What do you think about the limitations of the Chinese government towards contemporary artists like you?
I always work in China, and yes, I have been arrested, I have had exhibitions being forced to close, our website getting banned, etc. It happens too often that I do not even care anymore. I am being more cautious nowadays, for example, not posting full frontal nudity online. But sometimes, foreign media misunderstands me, and they love asking questions like this, but I really don’t mind it too much. Overall, it is not that somebody is constantly monitoring my behaviors, so it does not affect me a lot. Perhaps I get mad in the moment, but what has past is past. At the end of the day I still love China.
Ren Hang continues to stress the fact that he is “boring“. Especially when asked about those basic questions of his inspirational origins and meanings behind the photos, he always just smiles naively, shakes his shoulders and says, “I don’t really know. I never really thought about it.” Perhaps he is such a paver, heading towards the direction of happiness and creative freedom without realizing the pathways he has left behind. You might find him confusing and puzzling, but he has the ambience of such kindness that you would always trust that no evil can come out from him. He is merely a pure form of naked human beings.
Do you view male and female genitals differently?
To me they are both the same. When I am shooting, it is just a body part. But to me if a penis is not erected, it is as if it does not exist. A shrinking penis is ugly in my opinion.
How do you get your inspirations each time before or during your shoots?
I always just think randomly. A lot of the times the team I work with think that my ideas or the things I need to find are unpractical and undoable. But I always insist it for a while, and the truth is, often it works out fine in the end. Because normally in people’s preconsciousness, anything that we do not see, use or are not in contact with regularly would be easily defined as impossible to find or too far to reach. But once you put your hands on it, you would realize that it is actually not that difficult. For example, for the next project I want to shoot elephants or lions, and after looking out to some people it has been proven to be do-able. And sometimes it is simply the question of money. In my opinion, I should be able to shoot anything that exists in the world.
Do you normally prefer to use friends of yours to shoot? Many people who have worked with you know that you are quite picky with choosing the right model. Why is that?
Yes, I mostly shoot people I know, but recently I am shooting more and more strangers or models. And my only standard is that he or she has to be good looking to me, which is very straightforward and, of course, really subjective as well. It is a feeling that people give me and I cannot put it into words. But no matter what I always insist on using models I like. Once before a photo shoot, the stylist gave me nearly 50 models to choose from and I rejected them all. Eventually I tried my best and chose two. He kept asking what exactly I am looking for but I could not explain it to him, so I just told him to continue searching for me. Eventually he was a bit angry with me, haha.
Could you tell us how you developed your career?
I started shooting in 2008 and I basically shot every sort of topic and style at the beginning. But since most people paid attention to my nude series, I got more and more into that. Even though there is a strong resistance in Mainland China, there are still a lot of people who are willing to exhibit for me.
Why do you insist on shooting with film cameras?
Because I do not know how to do post productions! Just kidding, haha. I just think that the outcome of film photography is much nicer in terms of quality, texture and color. Plus I think the best state of a photo should be the moment you shot it. It should be a very direct and straightforward behavior. If you add a lot of post-production into it, it should be called a picture or a mixed-materials artwork, instead of a photo.
Do you intend to convey any sort of messages to the public with your photos?
Not really. I just want to make myself happy. Perhaps sometimes the photos might not come out welI, but at least I enjoyed the process of creating it, and that is quite enough. I do not think that my photos shall be put underneath a cultural mass or a theme to be put to use for something. Taking photos is just one of my interests that makes me happy, like dancing, eating or drinking. Many times people do things, like posting images on social media, simply as an act to get appreciated and complimented by others. This sort of superficiality is universal; it is selfish in the sense that it makes us happy and comfortable.
What is your favorite place?
China. I am most familiar with my home country. Even though other countries are nice, and I could live in any of them for a period of time, but at the end of the day it still doesn’t feel the same.
How does your family view the art you make?
My family is very average middle class workers and my parents are not divorced. I always thought they had no idea what I do for a living. But last time when I wanted to shoot with my mother back home, she naturally accepted and asked me directly if she needs to be naked. On the day of the shoot, she was very cooperative and exhausted herself out. “If it is not for you, I would never do this”, she said. It was a very comfortable and natural shoot, but we still never talk about my work.
How do you find nude models to work with you?
A lot of people write emails to me, or some of my friends ask me directly. But I am working on a project right now that I shoot every single person I encounter in my life, and eventually composing a multi-dimensional space with hundreds of thousands of faces.
For now, what are your future plans?
I want to create a magazine called “Gongji”, literally translated as cock, the animal. But it does not have an English name. The first issue, I would like to have all images of one face and one genital per page. The second issue would probably be in the form of a tape, with casual interviews that feels like a daily conversation and eventually touch up on their sexual experiences. I plan on releasing the first issue by the end of next year.