Poet, political dissident, and perhaps one of the most exciting photographers to emerge from China in the past decade, Ren Hang has come to occupy a unique place in the art world. Considering the suppression of his work in his home country, it’s no surprise that Hang has taken to photographing his subjects in foreign environments, and Athens Love (a follow-up to his first book, New Love, shot in New York City and published by the indispensable Session Press) continues the tradition.
Hang’s work has the rare and enviable quality of being instantly recognizable. With a sensibility that is at once slightly detached and direct, comic and unsettling, the photographs here achieve a kind of crafted spontaneity, mixing elements of staged and diaristic photography to an almost ethereal effect and giving Hang’s imagery the quality of existing somewhere between the real and the imagined. As an artist who wears his influences on his sleeve, Hang’s minimal, vibrant, and erotically charged vision has strong overtones of Teller and Sassen, as well as the dark theatricality of Shuji Terayama. But it is in his distinct approach to capturing the malleability and strange beauty of the human body that he’s begun to cement his reputation as a photographer to watch, and with Athens Love, a document of a young and dislocated Chinese artist drawing the contemporary out of an Ancient Western city, we have a vital addition to Hang’s impressive output.
The final few copies of Athens Love by Ren Hang can be purchased here.
Keenan McCracken is an artist and writer living in New York.