On 24 February 2017, Ren Hang – the controversial Chinese photographer whose erotically charged and confronting work often led to his arrest in his home country – passed away. He was only 29 years old.
A brazen celebration of exposure, Hang’s work faced heavy censorship in China but was widely celebrated across the rest of the world. Though he was repeatedly denied the opportunity to display his work in Beijing and throughout the country, he continued to push creative boundaries and produce artfully constructed images that blend aspects of nudity and surrealism.
Born in 1987 in Changchun, the capital of the northeastern province of Jilin, Hang was self-taught in terms of his photography. His subjects were often his friends (strangers made him nervous, he once said) who were happy to pose in the contorted, highly performative positions he required.
Hang had also endured a long battle with depression, the details of which he would often document on his website. In one of the final interviews he gave before his untimely death, the photographer explained to CNN the motivation behind his photography: "I'm doing this because I still get a feeling of novelty from it. And it fills the emptiness of my heart."
Prior to his death, Hang was in the process of working on a major solo exhibition at Foam, Amsterdam, after receiving the Outset Exhibition Fund at Unseen Photography Festival last September. He leaves behind a body of work that is seen by many as a guiding light for the future of Chinese contemporary photography.