martes, 20 de octubre de 2020

Zona Gale


Zona Gale

Zona Gale

Zona Gale, also known by her married name, Zona Gale Breese (August 26, 1874 – December 27, 1938), was an American novelist, short story writer, and playwright. She became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1921. The close relationship she had with her parents set the tone for her writing and her personal life. Her books based upon her home town were found to be charming and had an intimate sense of realism, in which she capture the underlying feelings and motivations of her characters. All of her works were written under her maiden name, Zona Gale.

She became a single parent when she adopted a girl. Her parents died in 1923 and 1929. After her parents died, she became interested in mysticism, which changed her writing style, to the chagrin of the critics that enjoyed her previous work. She was unmarried until she was in her fifties, when she married a childhood friend who was a widower. She supported political and social causes, like women's rights, pacifism, and education.

Early life and education

Gale was born on August 26, 1874 in Portage, Wisconsin to Charles Franklin and Eliza Beers Gale. She was very close to her parents, who were inspiration for the "charming elderly couple" in her book, The Loves of Pelleas and Etare. She began writing and illustrating stories at the age of 7. Her first story was printed in pencil, because she did not know how to write yet, and the manilla pages were bound into a book that was held together by a ribbon.

Gale submitted a short story, Bob, to the Milwaukee Evening Wisconsin when she was sixteen and was paid $3 for the story. She attended Wayland Academy in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin before she entered the University of Wisconsin, where she received a Bachelor of Literature or Library Science degree in 1895. She received a master's degree in Library Science in 1899 and another master's degree in 1901. While a student, her poems were published in university publications. She received an honorary degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1929.


After college, Gale wrote for Milwaukee Evening Wisconsin. She got the job by showing up at the city editor's desk each day. After two weeks, the city editor asked her to write a story about a flower show. After a total of six weeks, she was given a job on the paper. In 1896, she worked for the Milwaukee Journal. She went to New York City in 1901 and applied to get on every paper in the city. To get a job, she prepared a list of story ideas relevant for that day for the New York World and persisted until she got two assignments, and then a job.

All of this was so largely sheer adventure and pioneering that none of it now seems to me to have been either will or purpose, but sheer delight.

— Zona Gale

Hired as a secretary to Edmund Clarence Stedman, she met people from his literary circle, including Ridgely Torrence, with whom she would have a relationship, and Richard Le Gallienne. She returned to her hometown in 1903 and saw it in a new light that changed her direction as a writer. She found that her "old world was full of new possibilities." She returned to Portage permanently in 1904, where she wrote her stories full-time.

She published Romance Island, her first novel, in 1906, and began the popular "Friendship Village" series of stories which were thought to be based upon Portage, although Gale stated that Friendship Village was not based upon any one town, but typical of a small town. She won first prize, worth $2,000, in 1910 for "The Ancient Dawn" in the short fiction contest by the Delineator. In 1920, she published the novel Miss Lulu Bett, which depicts life in the Midwestern United States. Her novel, appreciated for its realism, was compared to the works of Sinclair Lewis and Theodore Dreiser. She adapted it as a play, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1921. For the time, she had a rare skill in the way she wrote about common daily experiences of ordinary people in a small town. Her early works were considered sentimental, but also, like Jane Austen's work, in touch with the deeper meanings of her character's expressions during tea-table banter. Frederick Tabor Cooper said, "We bask for a few hours in that human exhilarating sunshine that radiates straight from the heart of people who are real and true and big of soul."

Preface to Love, published in 1926 was based on a new-found mysticism that grew after the death of her mother in 1923 and her father in 1929. The main character mistakes his inner wisdom and mysticism for madness. She published essays based upon mysticism. In these works, people's problems could be solved through a kind of transcendentalist enlightenment. Critics, who did not enjoy her book and essays, viewed her work unfavorably from that point forward, even when she tried to return to realism.

She wrote a book about a friend, Frank Augustus Miller, the founder of the Mission Inn Hotel, after his death in 1935. The biography, titled Frank Miller of Mission Inn, was published in 1938. Throughout her career, she wrote under her maiden name, Zona Gale.

Political and suffrage efforts

She was a suffragist, an activist, and a liberal Democrat, who supported the La Follettes, including Robert Sr. and his two sons Robert Jr. and Philip. She spoke for them at events and on the radio when they were campaigning for office.

She was an active member of the National Woman's Party, and she lobbied extensively for the 1921 Wisconsin Equal Rights Law. In the same year, she attended the founding meeting (in New York) of the Lucy Stone League and became a member of its executive committee. Her activism on behalf of women was her way to help solve "a problem she returned to repeatedly in her novels: women's frustration at their lack of opportunities."

She became a pacifist during World War I. She was a director of the Women's International League of Peace. She also criticized the inclusion of military training in college curriculums. She was on the executive committee of the American Union Against Militarism and a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Women's Peace Society.

Zona Gale did not belong to a war torn world. Her influence for peace and good will lives on. That in no way will affect our love for her or her love for humanity.

— Ada James, social work leader, December 28, 1938

She was against racial prejudice and promoted improved means of communication among races. She served on the Wisconsin Free Library Commission. In 1922, she established Zona Gale scholarships to pay towards talented young adult's education.

University of Wisconsin

She later became a regent of the university and became embroiled in the ouster of the president, Dr. Glenn Frank. Governor Philip La Follette convinced other regents, some of who he had appointed, to call for the removal of Frank. Gale stood by Frank and criticized the governor.

The Zona Gale House is a historic house located at 506 West Edgewater Street in Portage, Wisconsin. It is locally and generally significant for its association with literature and unique architecture.

The two-and-a-half story house was built by Zona Gale in 1906 as a gift to her parents; Gale was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It is located in Portage, Wisconsin. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 for its significance in literature and architecture.

Personal life

In 1902, she met Ridgely Torrence in New York, with whom she developed a "deeply felt spiritual love", but when considering whether to stay in New York or return to Portage, she returned to her family. Construction began on a house for her and her parents in 1906. Located along the shore of the Wisconsin River in Portage, she lived in the house most of her adult life.

Her mother died in 1923. In 1926, she began caring for a girl, Leslyn, who was a relative. She formally adopted her in 1931. On June 12, 1928, at the age of 54, she married William L. Breese, who was a platonic friend from her childhood and a widower. He was a wealthy banker and hosiery manufacturer. They lived in a house on MacFarlane Road in Portage after their marriage. She became a step mother to William's daughter, Juliette Blackman Breese, who married Cecil Bennett in 1930. Her father died in 1929. She became interested in philosophy after the death of her parents.

She enjoyed travel to California, New York, Japan and other places.  Gale, a frequent visitor to the Mission Inn Hotel in Riverside, California, became a friend of Frank Augustus Miller, the founder of the hotel.

Zona Gale

Death and legacy

Gale came to Chicago in mid-December 1938 for treatment of an ailment and contracted pneumonia about December 20. She died of pneumonia in Passavant Hospital in Chicago on December 27. Dr. Glenn Frank, former president of the University of Wisconsin, presided over her funeral. She was buried at Silver Lake Cemetery in Portage. Most of her estate of $60,000 (equivalent to $1,102,823 in 2019) went to Leslyn, age 12, and Juliette. Leslyn was to receive Gale's personal effects and the Zona Gale house upon her marriage. Juliette was bequeathed another house. Some money was set aside for the Zona Gale scholarships. William Breese died on October 1, 1954 at the age of 90.  By the time of Breeser's death, Leslyn married Robert Keie of Saginaw, Michigan.

In her memory, William Breese established the Zona Gale Breese Library in Portage. He donated two houses, one of which was the Zona Gale house that went to the Women's Civic League. The performing arts center in Portage was named after her. A historic marker at Commerce Plaza Park in Portage memorializes her life.



Primary Works
Gale, Zona. Old Fashioned Tales. New York 1933.
---. Yellow Gentians and Blue. New York D. Appleton and Company, 1927.
---. Mister Pitt. New York D. Appleton and Company, 1925.
Gale, Zona, and American Association for Social Security. Lights Out : A Tragedy. <New York City: American association for old age security.
Gale, Zona. Miss Lulu Bett. New York D. Appleton and Company, 1920.
Gale, Zona. Friendship Village. New York Macmillan Company, 1909.
---. Romance Island. 1906.
---. The Loves of Pelleas and Etarre. 1907.
---. Friendship Village. New York: The Macmillan company, 1908.
---. Mothers to Men. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1911.
---. Christmas; a Story. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1912.
---. Civic Improvement in the Little Towns. Washington, D.C.,, 1913.
---. When I Was a Little Girl. New York: The Macmillan company, 1913.
---. Neighborhood Stories. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1914.
---. Heart's Kindred. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1915.
---. Birth. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1918.
---. Peace in Friendship Village. 1919.
---. Miss Lulu Bett. New York <etc.>: D. Appleton, 1920.
---. Miss Lulu Bett. New York, London: D. Appleton and co., 1921.
---. The Secret Way. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1921.
---. Uncle Jimmy. Boston: Walter H. Baker company, 1922.
---. Faint Perfume. 1923.
---. Mister Pitt. 1st ed. New York ; London: D. Appleton and Company, 1925.
---. Preface to a Life. 1926.
---. The Neighbours. New York: Viking Press, 1927.
---. Yellow Gentians and Blue. New York and London: D. Appleton and company, 1927.
Gale, Zona, and Lella B. Kelsey. Miss Lulu Bett. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1928.
Gale, Zona. Portage, Wisconsin : And Other Essays. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1928.
---. Borgia. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1929.
---. Portage, Wisconsin and Other Ways. 1929.
Gale, Zona. Bridal Pond. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1930.
---. The Neighbours. New York: Samuel French, 1932.
---. Old-Fashioned Tales. New York ; London: D. Appleton-Century company incorporated, 1933.
---. Papa La Fleur. New York, London: D. Appleton and company, 1933.
---. Faint Perfume : A Play with a Prologue, and Three Acts. New York ; Los Angeles, <etc.>: S. French, 1934.
---. Light Woman. 1937.
---. Frank Miller of Mission Inn. New York ; London: D. Appleton-Century, 1938.
---. Magna. New York ; London: D. Appleton-Century company incorporated, 1939.

Sherry, Laura Case, and Zona Gale. Old Prairie Du Chien. Paris: E.W. Titus, 1931.

Bennett, Richard, and Zona Gale. England and Ireland. University of Washington Chapbooks, No. 8. Seattle: University of Washington Book Store, 1927.

Herald, Leon Serabian, and Zona Gale. This Waking Hour : Poems. New York: T. Sellzer, 1925.

Secondary Bibliography

Barlow, Judith E. Plays by American Women : The Early Years. New York: Avon Books, 1981.

---. Plays by American Women, 1900-1930. New York, N.Y.: Applause Theatre Book Publishers, 1985.

Cabell, James Branch, et al. The Novel of Tomorrow and the Scope of Fiction. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill company, 1922.

Campbell, Donna M. Bitter Tastes: Literary Naturalism and Early Cinema in American Women's Writing. University of Georgia Press, 2016.

Derleth, August William, and Zona Gale. Still Small Voice; the Biography of Zona Gale. New York, London: D. Appleton-Century company incorporated, 1940.

Christ, Birte. Modern Domestic Fiction: Popular Feminism, Mass-Market Magazines, and Middle-Class Culture, 1905-1925 [in English]. American Studies: A Monograph Series (Amstudies). Heidelberg, Germany: Universitatsverlag Winter, 2012.

Ehrhardt, Julia Writers of Conviction: The Personal Politics of Zona Gale, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Rose Wilder Lane, and Josephine Herbst. Columbia: University Press of Missouri, 2004 (January).

Fisher, Dorothy Canfield, et al. Aces : A Collection of Short Stories. New York ; London: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1924.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, and Zona Gale. The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman; an Autobiography. New York: D. Appleton-Century company incorporated, 1935.

Koppelman, Susan. Women's Friendships : A Collection of Short Stories. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991.

Lovett, Robert Morss, et al. Art and the Worth-While. Man and His World, V. 9, Ed. By B. Brownell. New York: D. Van Nostrand company inc., 1929.

Maxwell, William. "Zona Gale." The Yale Review 76.2 (1987): 221-25.

Monteiro, George. "Zona Gale and Ridgely Torrence." American Literary Realism, 1870-1910 3 (1970): 77-79.

Nettels, Elsa. "Edith Wharton's Correspondence with Zona Gale: 'An Elder's Warm Admiration and Interest'." Resources for American Literary Study 24.2 (1998): 207-34.

Rhoades, Lynn. "Maid or Writer? The Rhetoric of Conformity and Rebellion in Miss Lulu Bett." Midamerica: The Yearbook of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature 23 (1996): 73-89.

Schroeder, Patricia R. "Realism and Feminism in the Progressive Era." The Cambridge Companion to American Women Playwrights. Ed. Brenda Murphy. Cambridge Companions to Literature. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 1999. 31-46.

Simonson, Harold Peter. Zona Gale. Twayne's United States Authors Series, 18. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1962.

Simonson, Harold P. "Zona Gale (1874-1938)." American Literary Realism, 1870-1910 3 (1968): 14-17.

Sutherland, Cynthia. "American Women Playwrights as Mediators of the 'Woman Problem'." Modern Drama 21 (1978): 319-36.

Szymanski, Karen. "Zona Gale." American Literary Realism, 1870-1910 8 (1975): 260.

Tarkington, Booth, et al. Marriage : Short Stories of Married Life. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Page & company, 1923.

White, Katherine A. "Miss Lulu Bett Revived." Turn-of-the-Century Women 1.2 (1984): 38-40.

Williams, Deborah. "Threats of Correspondence: The Letters of Edith Wharton, Zona Gale, and Willa Cather." Studies in American Fiction 25.2 (1997): 211-39.

Williams, Deborah Lindsay. Not in Sisterhood : Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Zona Gale, and the Politics of Female Authorship. 1st ed. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York: Palgrave, 2001.


miércoles, 14 de octubre de 2020

Ren Hang


Ren Hang


Ren Hang

Ren Hang 

(1987 - 2017)

The Art of Taboo: 任航(レン・ハン)- Ren Hang

Ren Hang was a contemporary Chinese photographer. Before his death at the age of 29, he was the subject of both controversy and critical acclaim for his daring erotic photographs. Ren’s work often featured an amalgam of nude figures, with several young models posing together in abstracted compositions that felt at once surreal and banal. He shot his friends and lovers in manner reminiscent of Ryan McGinley, and is said to have worked improvisationally and without a preconceived plan. Ren was arrested multiple times over the course of his short life and was the target of censorship by the Chinese government. “I do not think nudity is challenging—nudity is common, everybody has it,” the artist explained, undaunted. “I like people naked and I like sex; I use nudity so that I can feel more realism and sense of presence.” Born in 1987 in Jilin, China, Ren began taking photographs while studying advertising in college, and found a champion of his work in the influential Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. He would go on to be featured in exhibitions worldwide, notably including the Foam Museum in Amsterdam, the Fotografiska Museum in Stockholm, and Stieglitz19 gallery in Antwerp. Tragically, having long suffered from depression, the artist took his own life in February 2017, just weeks after having posted a message to his Weibo social media account "Every year, the wish I make is the same: to die earlier.”


Photo by Ren Hang

Ren Hang (Chinese: 任航; March 30, 1987 – February 24, 2017) was a Chinese photographer and poet.

During Ren's incipient career, he was known mostly for nude photographic portraits of his friends. His work is significant for its representation of Chinese sexuality within a heavily censored society. For these erotic undertones, he was arrested by PRC authorities several times. He received the backing of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who included Ren in his 2013 Netherlands show, Fuck Off 2 The Sequel, and curated the photographer's 2014 exhibition in Paris, France. Ren's erotic, playful and casual yet provocative expression gained him worldwide fame.

Early life

Ren was born in 1987, in a suburb of Changchun, Jilin province, in northeastern China.

In 2007, in order to relieve the boredom of studying advertising at college, he bought a point-and-shoot camera and began shooting his friends. As a self-taught photographer, he said his style of photography was inspired by the artist Shūji Terayama.


Ren suffered from depression. He posted a series of diary entries titled "My depression" on his blog, recording the fear, anxiety and internal conflicts he experienced. 

Ren died by suicide on February 24, 2017 in Beijing.

Photo by Ren Hang



Ren first began taking pictures of his roommates and friends in 2007, shooting them in the nude as all were close and seeking excitement. In an interview, he also admitted: “I usually shoot my friends, because strangers make me nervous.” He arranged his subjects' naked limbs in his photographs.

Ren did not consider his work inappropriate: “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.” This may account for his reticence to limit his work to indoor settings. He said there were no preferred places for him to work, as he believed anywhere was beautiful and worthy to be shot, including sparse studios, parks forests, and atop buildings. Ren's photos employ nude groups and solo portraits of men and women often contorted into highly performative positions. For example, hands reach down milky thighs, a limp penis flops onto a watermelon and a series of backsides imitate a mountain range.

Questioning the purpose of his work, he once stated that his creation was a way to seek fun for both photographer and the photographed. However, once he had reached fame on an international level, he began to think deeply about his work. The British Journal of Photography quoted him as once saying: "I don't want others having the impression that Chinese people are robots... Or they do have sexual genitals but always keep them as some secret treasures. I want to say that our cocks and pussies are not embarrassing at all." Ren also focused on marginalised people in Chinese society with gender identity disorders by 'indeterminating' sex and gender in some of his work: a group of naked bodies stacked together, men wearing silk stockings and wearing lipstick. He denied having a preference in models: “Gender… only matters to me when I’m having sex.” The international quarterly photography journal Aperture used his photo as the cover for its "Queer" theme. Commentators also see his work, the naked body and the starched penis, as evolving sexual mores and the struggle for creative and sexual freedom in a conservative, tightly controlled society. But Ren also announced "I don't try to get a message across, I don't give my works names, I don't date them. I don’t want to instill them with any vocabulary. I don't like to explain my photos or work as a whole".

It has been mentioned that Ren's work is softcore pornography because of the degree of nudity and sex in it, but he also worked with other themes. The most famous was titled “My Mum”. Although still under a fetishistic atmosphere, posing with usual props in Ren's works like animals and plants, Ren's mother posed as a clothed model, in a light-hearted way to represent her daily life. Ren's photographs have been included in magazines L'Officiel, GQ Style, and Vice. He worked with fashion companies Gucci, Rick Owens, and Loewe. Ren's work is included in Frank Ocean's magazine Boys Don't Cry.


Ren published his first English translated collection of his poetry in January 2017 by BHKM, New York, which selectively contained his poems from 2007 to 2016 named Word or two, and a collection of poetry in Chinese by Neurasthenia, Taiwan, which contained his poems from 2007 to 2013 named Poem Collection of Renhang. This poetry is mainly about his enthusing emotions on describing the ideal love and life with lovers as well as the fear and loneliness when losing loves. The emotional erotic poetry usually comprises a handful of short lines, the tone ranging from humorous to sensual to dark. Here is an extract from a 2016 poem called Love:


My kisses compactly join as a line, like the snake swims around each rugged reef on your trembling body, then you turn into the snake, I turn into the reef, and then we turn into snakes, intertwining together, we turn into reefs, striking each other.

Inside the bedroom filed with our fingerprints, those fingerprints keep enlarging, turn into growth rings, turn into mazes. We are lost with the whole world. 

Throughout his life, he endured a long battle with depression, an experience he would often document on his website under a menu item titled My Depression. Here he recorded, sometimes in the form of poetry, his inner struggles against depression, including frequent hallucinations and hearing voices. In one poem, he wrote:


Life indeed is a
precious gift
but I often think

it seems sent to a wrong person

Style and controversies

Ren Hang is noted to be greatly influenced by Chinese and Asian contemporary art and in particular, Japanese photographer and contemporary artist Nobuyoshi Araki.

Ren Hang mainly worked with a simple point-and-shoot camera. He would direct the models as to how to place their bodies and shoot in quick succession. Genitalia, breasts and anuses were not covered up, but featured, or accentuated with props and close-ups. Colors were rich and high in contrast, increasing visual impact. This, along with the fact all bodies were slim, lithe and relatively hairless, made the impact of his photographs more impressive. His work communicated a raw, stark aesthetic that countered taboos and celebrated sexuality. Someone concluded it was this contemporary form of poeticism in a visual context in which Ren Hang expressed themes of identity, the body, love, loss and death.

Nudity is not a theme in art which can be widely accepted by the Chinese older generation. Ren Hang's works are sometimes misinterpreted by the public as pornography. Although some have written that Ren Hang used his photographs to challenge Chinese cultural norms of shame around nudity, he did not believe he was challenging the stereotype and leading a revolution. For him, nudity and sexuality are natural themes which he used in his work.

Nudes are there since always. We were born nude. So talking about revolution, I don't think there's anything to revolutionize. Unless people are born with clothes on, and I want to take their clothes off, then I think this is a revolution. If it was already like that, then it's not a revolution. I just photographed things on their more natural conditions.

He said he was not trying to liberate nudity and sexuality since he believed that the Chinese young generation was open-minded and less affected by the old-fashioned cultures. When Ren Hang talked about the question whether the topic of sexuality was still a taboo in China, he said:

I don't think it's related to our times, these are individual cases. Like how to say it, I think it depends on different people, it doesn't really relate to other things. I was not in the whole parents told you that you can only have sex if you get married era. The time after I grow up was already over that period, it was already different like everyone was already more relaxed.



From La Chine à Nue by Ren Hang

From La Chine à Nue by Ren Hang

The banned Chinese photographer on show in Paris

Ren Hang has been curated by Ai Weiwei, arrested while shooting and has had visitors spit on his photographs

James Joyce's Ulysses was banned in Britain upon its publication; Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs were often subject to censorship of one form or another during the artist's lifetime; Nan Goldin even had a show of her closed down in Brazil in 2011, after censors objected to the display of nude, sexual photographs beside images of children.

With this in mind, perhaps we shouldn’t be especially judgemental when we read that the 26-year-old Beijing photographer and poet Ren Hang says, by way of introduction to his current Paris exhibition, “I am pleased to present my work in France, as it is difficult to exhibit my pictures in China.”

From La Chine à Nue by Ren Hang
From La Chine à Nue by Ren Hang

Ren's exhibition, La Chine a Nue, at Paris' Nue Galerie (on until 14 March) is typical of the artist's work. Ren's pictures, some of which were also shown at the Ai Weiwei curated Fuck Off 2 exhibition in The Netherlands last year, bring to mind the nudes of Goldin, Mapplethorpe, Terry Richardson, Ryan McGinley and Larry Clarke, as well as the work of a few of his fellow countrymen, such as the performance artist Zhang Huan.


From La Chine à Nue by Ren Hang
From La Chine à Nue by Ren Hang

The pictures we've run here are artfully conceived and don't appear to be willfully controversial. Ren's poetry seems to possess similar qualities: at points priapic, at other moments contemplative. Certainly, his working life would be easier where he to change subject matter.

From La Chine à Nue by Ren Hang
From La Chine à Nue by Ren Hang

“My photos, especially the ones of naked bodies, are forbidden to be shown in Chinese galleries,” he told Vice recently. “Only occasionally can the ones that aren't explicit be shown, but I still face many difficulties even with them. For example, one of my shows was cancelled by the Chinese government on 'suspicion of sex' and, another time, a visitor spat at one of my photos. And those are just a couple of examples of the problems I've had. None of China's press will publish my books and I've been arrested while shooting photos outside before.”

From La Chine à Nue by Ren Hang
From La Chine à Nue by Ren Hang

We certainly hope this exhibition helps Ren work more ably. For more on the show, go here and for greater insight into China's artistic tradition, pick up a copy of The Chinese Art Book. Meanwhile, for more on contemporary photography, pre-order Photography Today.


From La Chine à Nue by Ren Hang
From La Chine à Nue by Ren Hang

All images © Ren Hang, courtesy of Taschen

Controversial and renowned Chinese photographer Ren Hang dies aged 29

Published on 24 February 2017

Ren Hang, one of the leading lights of the new generation of Chinese photographers, despite enduring censorship and intimidation from the authorities throughout his career, has died at the age of 29, his gallerist has confirmed.

Ren Hang was arrested many times for his sexually explicit, joyously celebratory photography. Although he was globally renowned, he never gained the recognition he deserved in his home country, in part because he was repeatedly denied the opportunity to display his work in Beijing and throughout China.

Championed by Ai Wei Wei, and talked of as China’s answer to Ryan McGinley, Ren Hang’s photography was highly explicit, featuring nude group and solo portraits of men and women often contorted into highly performative positions. They were not models, but his friends, and increasingly, his fans, often shot in his tiny high-rise apartment. “I usually shoot my friends,” he once said. “Because strangers make me nervous.”

Ren Hang endured a long battle with depression throughout his life, an experience he would often document on his website, sometimes in the form of poetry, under a menu item titled My Depression.

One such entry from 16 July 2014, put through Google Translate, reads:

Life is indeed a

Precious gift

But I often feel

It seems to send the wrong man

Dries Roelens, who works for Ren Hang’s Belgian gallerist Stieglitz 19, confirmed the death today. He would have turned 30 next month.

Ren 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.

Image © Ren Hang, courtesy Taschen

Image © Ren Hang, courtesy Taschen

Mirjam Kooiman, a curator at Amsterdam photography museum Foam, said to CNN of Ren Hang’s oeuvre at the time: “He makes the work in a context that isn’t free and open, so even though it’s not his intention to work against the grain, he cannot go around it completely. It is telling us something about not only him as an artist but also the generation he’s from.”

“There’s no hierarchy between the female and the male model in his work. It’s very telling about these tendencies of sexuality and queerness in Chinese society and how his generation is dealing with it,” Kooiman said. “It’s visual poetry. It’s without limits.”

Ren, his surname, given name Hang, was born March 30, 1987, in Nong’ An, a suburb of Changchun, capital of the northeastern province of Jilin, called the “Detroit of China” for its automotive industry.

Despite a deep affection for his hometown, he left for Beijing at 17 to study advertising.

He was a self-taught photographer, who bought a point-and-shoot camera and began shooting nude images of his friends as a way to “relieve boredom” while studying advertising in college.

He gained solo exhibitions in Antwerp, Athens, Bangkok, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Marseille, New York, Paris and Vienna, as well as gaining a hugely passionate organic following on platforms like Flickr, Facebook and Instagram.

He self-published seven monographs before Taschen recently published a retrospective photobook of his work, the first time an established, international publishing company had published his work.

Although he had exhibited in Beijing, and had been featured in the city’s independent magazines, he had a deeply complicated relationship with his home country.

On the times his photographs were shown to the public, it wasn’t unusual for his photos to be defaced at exhibitions or confiscated by officials. His websites were often mysteriously taken offline.

But Ren Hang was entirely disinterested in any sort of political or socially-conscious interception of his work.

“I don’t want others having the impression that Chinese people are robots with no cocks or pussies,” he told Dian Hanson, who edited the Taschen book. “Or they do have sexual genitals but always keep them as some secret treasures. I want to say that our cocks and pussies are not embarrassing at all.”

“What success means to me … I don’t know,” he told Hanson. “I wish that life can just go on. Smoothly.”

Pornographic images have been banned in the People’s Republic of China since 1949, but definitions are kept purposefully vague. But, as one of Ren Hang’s models said to Hanson, his photography helped to leaven a thirst “to break through the social taboo of nudity – for the sake of natural beauty.” May he rest in peace.

Ren Hang’s Instagram feed is here. And his website is here.

Ren Hang: Obituary

Ren Hang 任航 (1987-2017) was a poet and photographer born in Nong’ An, a suburb of Changchun, capital of the northeastern province of Jilin, called the “Detroit of China” for its automotive industry. At the age of seventeen, he left his hometown to settled down in Beijing to study marketing. His college work didn’t interest him so – in order to kill boredom - he bought himself a small Minolta point-and-shoot film camera and taught himself to use it.

Ren created several photographic series between 2008 and 2016, in concomitance with poems and free verses that we wrote between 2007 and 2017. Over the years, he gradually shifted from seemingly candid shots of individuals nudes to sexually-charged and explicit photographs, in which young naked bodies interlaced with one another in uncommon settings and complex compositions.  

Ren was laconic when it came to discussing his works, which explains why he generally didn’t name them. With the exception of one series entitled “My Mum” (2014). Posing with the usual props in Ren’s works like animals and plants, the artist’s mother became another subject for his carefully staged and colourful images, while she retained her real-life identity in these fictionalised representations of her daily life. The rest of Ren series are populated with a mixture of his own male and female friends or people who approached him from the Internet.

"My Mum" series, 2014

"My Mum" series, 2014

His models posed naked, in impromptu choreographies, stacked like compression sculptures, often contorted in unnatural shapes. Their body parts were interlaced with flowers, hairs, and animals amongst other atypical props. Ren combined indoors, outdoors, natural and urban environments to create a playful raw vision of young people, regardless their gender. Tightly composed, his photographs were saturated and lit with stark flash. His goal was to “portray every organ in a fresh, vivid and emotional way.” Bright, lurid, blunt, the eroticism in Ren’s works is obvious. Yet they also convey a strong poetic and evocative force. “People come into this world naked and I consider naked bodies to be people’s original, authentic look,” Ren told vice magazine back in 2013. “I feel the real existence of people through their naked bodies.”

Ren’s works were and are still celebrated and censored in equal measure. Although he was disinterested in any sort of political or social commentary, he eventually embodied Chinese artists’ battle for creative freedom. In fact his works suffered from enduring censorship and intimidation from the Chinese authorities, who defaced or confiscated his works and even arrested him. The main cause: pornographic and nudity images have been banned in the People’s Republic of China since 1949. As he said: “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.”

Ren’s creativity was warmly welcomed in the Western World, especially in the arty and fashion circles. His first exhibition abroad happened in 2011, when Ai Weiwei invited him in the group show “Fuck Off 2” in Groninger Museum (Netherlands). In his brief career, he had to his credit over twenty solo, seventy group shows, several self-published monographs, and an official monograph by Taschen. Two solo exhibitions are currently running at the Foam Photography Museum in Amsterdam, and the Fotografiska Museum in Stockholm. He collaborated with the fashion brand Maison Kitsuné and published his photographs in Vice France Magazine, GQ style China Magazine, and TANK Magazine amongst many other. Today, Ren's works are collected by CAFA Art Museum and Three Shadows Photography Art Centre in China; Kansas State University Art Museum in USA; Multimedia Art Museum in Russia; and White Rabbit Collection in Australia.

Ren Hang's photograph for the fashion brand Maison Kitsuné

Ren Hang's photograph for the fashion brand Maison Kitsuné

Ren endured a long battle with cyclical depression throughout his life. He turned to poetry to chronicle his battle with the disease, while having often foreshadowed his own death in postings on social media. "People suffering from depression may not exhibit any obvious symptoms, but if you find a friend down with depression, you need to spend more time with them and make the effort to call them more frequently, because you never know when it will strike," he wrote. "One minute I might be thinking the whole world is smiling at me, and the next, I might feel they all want to stab me." His struggle eventually led him to commit suicide on February 23rd 2017. He would have turned 30 in March. We will miss your outrageous poetry. Rest in peace Ren Hang.