At 26, Ren Hang has already published six photography books, continually trumping conservative Chinese culture with his use of the nude. In a country where censorship extends to all aspects of life, Ren brings a dose of innocence to the task of irreverently awakening Chinese sexuality.
YANYAN HUANG — What did you start photographing first?
REN HANG — Everything I saw around me. Friends, nature, places. I’m still photographing these things now.
YANYAN HUANG — Do you look to Western or Eastern culture for inspiration?
REN HANG — Mostly Chinese culture.
YANYAN HUANG — Which artists are you looking at these days?
REN HANG — My favorite one is the Japanese avant-garde director and photographer Shuji Terayama. He studied with Nobuyoshi Araki.
YANYAN HUANG — What kind of cameras do you like to use?
REN HANG — I use multiple versions of a Minolta 35 mm film camera. Though I’ve experimented with all kinds of cameras, this model is my favorite. I found it through friends, who told me it was easy to use. I have five, since I break them easily.
YANYAN HUANG — How do you like living in Beijing?
REN HANG — I live here because I went to school here, and since graduating I’ve just stayed. I like to see rock shows at little venues like Yugong Yishan and D22.
YANYAN HUANG — What are you working on now?
REN HANG — I’ll be going to Paris in January to exhibit some work. Also, I’ll be photographing on set for the writer Ming Ming’s upcoming film.
YANYAN HUANG — Is it hard to be a photographer in China?
REN HANG — No, it’s rather easy, but it is very difficult to shoot nudes in China. People are more bound by traditional and conservative attitudes toward the body. They think it’s a degradation, even a demoralization, to show what they think should be private. They generally abhor nudity here. We hide the body in our culture. In China, people will tell the government to shut down art and photography shows if there’s nudity. If you put nudes online, they don’t care about the composition, beauty, lighting, or artistic tradition — all they care about is that it’s a nude body and should not be seen.
YANYAN HUANG — What draws you to the body?
REN HANG — I don’t really have an explanation. The way I see it, bodies are pre-existing regardless of whether I photograph them or not. They’re also part of the natural world.
YANYAN HUANG — Since depicting nudes isn’t acceptable in Chinese culture, how did you begin shooting them?
REN HANG — I started shooting nudes only accidentally. In school, we were living in cramped dorm rooms of four people, so I would frequently see my roommates in the nude. It was a natural and easy subject because I was shooting everything anyway.
YANYAN HUANG — How do you construct a photo shoot
REN HANG — It’s spontaneous for me. I don’t plan shoots, and I take photos whenever I feel like it. It’s like satisfying a thirst. I wait for natural moments of beauty, almost like stumbling upon them. I wait for ideas and plans that I’ve collected in my head to appear in reality.
YANYAN HUANG — Though your photos have a lot of sexual elements, they still seem quite innocent. Does this innocence reflect your relationship with your subjects?
REN HANG — My models are all my friends. I haven’t photographed people actually having sex, but my friends trust me to use them as pliable tools. My friends are my collaborators. They trust me to control them and they submit willingly. Through my photos I would like people to have fantasies, to be seduced into conjuring up their personal sexual experiences.
YANYAN HUANG — What seduces you?
REN HANG — Everything. If I want to think about sex, everything will conjure up a sexual thought.
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