Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I would get the chance to meet the creator of art I admire and enjoy so much, let alone watch him work and get to know him.
Some of my fondest memories of Bangkok so far have been the four special days we spent inducing heart palpitations on a condominium rooftop (sorry E!); sharing and sampling copious amounts of street food; practising floating and diving in a rooftop pool; exploring an unfinished condo and becoming very well acquainted with a Burmese python (thank you, Nim & Beer!).
Ren is one of the funniest, most generous and down to earth people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting and Qi, one of the sweetest, and most culinarily curious. The thing that I admire and that has stuck with me the most about Ren, though, is his “why not?” and “just fucking do it” approach to photography and life in general. If you are familiar with his work, you can understand how his approach to it is so strongly underpinned by his ability to be uninhibited by fear of what other people may think and this, I suppose, is what has propelled him into the spotlight in the first place. Ren has made waves with the art he produces in a country as bound by censorship as China, where nudity and sex are still so contentious and taboo.
Despite this, he by no means comes across as an artiste. Just a guy who knows what he likes and wants and goes about achieving it without caring about what anyone else thinks. Sure, there is skill and technique involved, but what makes his work so special to me, is the attitude that so clearly cuts through it. Not just in the content, but in how his shots would have to have been achieved – and this is something I had the special privilege of witnessing from behind the scenes. I got to see how he scouted for locations, composed shots, directed his models and took license with which props to use – he just did it with a certainty, confidence and vision but this was always driven by a sense of wonder, excitement and adventure in capturing that perfect shot – never ego.
Scouting for a night time location was difficult because Ren was looking for somewhere outdoors with greenery and large banana leaves which isn’t easy to find in Bangkok city. This meant wandering around and running the risk of being prosecuted for trespassing and shooting (nudity) in public.
You never quite know what you’ll be doing when you work with Ren Hang. Whether it be scaling great heights…
… or playing zookeeper with a 2m long snake
A heart attack was nearly had when he got his models to pose with a pot plant over the edge of a condominium rooftop 37 storeys above the Chao Phraya river. (That cheeky smile though, lol).
What I found refreshing and was fortunate enough to observe, is that his work is a true product of who he is as a person – not just an alter ego he slips into when he gets behind the camera (although this would also be completely fine as well if this is how you work). Meeting him in person and getting the chance to see how this attitude translates into his work has been an amazing and fascinating experience. One of the instances that immediately comes to mind when I think of this is the time I asked if Ren wanted to check out some galleries. His response was, “No, galleries are boring. I don’t know art”. Zero pretentiousness, one hundred percent perfect.
I was also pretty amazed when Ren told me he had never taken English lessons given how well he spoke the language. This, I think, also lent itself to his attitude whereby he would just unabashedly practise with me and openly ask how to say things. We spent a good ten minutes distinguishing the difference in pronunciation between ‘house’ and ‘horse’ on a street corner after a seafood dinner one night. Ren never held back in expressing himself, even if he didn’t have the words – something I think is important for us to as human beings to be able to do (although the phrase “la-la-la-la-la” and the generic name of “Hasuki” did help).
I thought I was big into food, but Qi and Ren were next-level and would stop where and whenever they wanted to try something new. No fucks given about when the last meal was or whether everyone else was walking ahead
Going head first into everything… not just diving!
I spied this awesome abandoned development from the rooftop pool that I said I wanted to explore but I don’t think we would have gone in if Ren didn’t follow up and push us to actually try and check it out. I’m glad he did because we were there just as the sun was casting the most glorious golden glow through it.
I watched Ren handle a Burmese python without a single worry or care all day. Sure, you would be precious about something that could bite or choke the life out of you but when he was working with Nim, he remained in control and persisted (but never without respect) with getting the shot he wanted.
Chilling at ease with Nim before the shoot.
In his element
… But not so much when he’s on the other side of the camera d: I forced him and Qi to take this lame photo with me because I thought it would be funny given we were all rocking the shirt-tucked-into-shorts look. But hey! It’s one for a funny memory’s sake. Twisted right shoulder-strap unintentional, by the way.
It’s amazing timing, luck and coincidence and the work of MoST and Soy Sauce Factory that I have to thank for the opportunity to have this awesome experience (!!!) with a special shout out to E and J for being so accommodating (: