The recent passing of legendary Chinese photographer, Ren Hang shook the art world, with many photophiles still uploading tribute posts to their Instagram and Facebook accounts a month after his untimely demise. Potentially the most controversial and celebrated Asian photographer since Araki, the death of this young artist is genuinely a huge loss to the industry and he will be sorely missed. As a tribute to the late great, we have compiled a list of five up-and-coming photographers who continue to wave the flag for China and ensure that, although the world has lost one of the best, his home country will remain on the radar for producing some seriously talented photographers.
Chi Peng was born at the beginning of China’s one child policy in 1981 – a scheme aimed to reduce birth rates in order to monitor the population growth of the country. Themes of loneliness evident in the photographer’s work are a direct result of this policy, and ideas surrounding escapism, adolescence and sexual identity evolve from a fear of failure prevalent in his generation. As the main protagonist in his work, Peng’s self-portraits show this concern through his manipulated imagery, most obvious in the fleeing subjects being chased in the series Sprinting Towards. However, with the social and economic progression of China and the eradication of the one child policy, the topic of optimism is also explored. In Peng’s Dream series, we see the photographer edit himself as a dragonfly, soaring carefree and uncaged – hopeful for the future.
Fascinated by photography as a medium, Wang Ningde aims to intently investigate the inner workings of the practice and make photographs about photography and not photographic works with the purpose to express something. He focuses on the fundamentals of the avenue in order to create his imagery, exploring in depth the workings of light, materials, technique and composition. With an initial interest in documentary photography and photojournalism, Ningde used his techniques to “decipher and answer the unanswerable” creating black and white photographs concerning contemporary China and the memory of the Cultural Revolution. Most recently, however, the photographer has concentrated on further exploring the basic factors of photography by deconstructing and reworking his large-scale photographs as “abstract and inverted photographic works mirages”.
Known for his Terry Richardson-style snapshot aesthetic, Shanghai based artist Ka Xiaoxi focuses on Chinese youth culture in the contemporary world. He concentrates mostly on street culture and fashion, shooting at various club-nights and bars. Beginning his photographic career at a time when the subcultural movement in China was only emerging, Xiaoxi has managed to document the flourishing groups of youths personifying changes in culture of the notoriously conservative nation. Using simple 35mm point and shoot cameras, Xiaoxi’s images are raw and gritty – often over or underexposed and sometimes slightly out of focus. The subtlety of his compact instruments allow for a more intimate and authentic documentation, which, complimented by his aesthetic, results in his energetic and vibrant illustration of the up-and-coming cool kids of his hometown.
Born in Shanghai, Shen Wei is now based in New York City, where he received a Masters in Fine Art from the School of Visual Arts and began his career. Inspired by those around him and influenced heavily by his strict Chinese upbringing, the photographer’s first recognised series depicts a number of intimate portraits of New Yorkers wearing little to no clothing. Speaking of the project “Almost Naked”, Wei explains that his interest in American sexuality and identity spurred on this project, which intends to “explore the complexities of emotion, desire and instinct”. Furthering his study into freedom of expression inspired by his experiences of being raised in China and residing in America, Wei has since gone on to travel his homeland and reconnect with his roots – discovering an authentic China without its political and economic influences. His self-portrait series again expresses the photographer’s desire for openness and possibility, breaking through conservative barriers and allowing him to continue on his journey of self-reflection and discovery.
Working under the collaborative name “Birdhead”, photographers Ji Weiyu and Song Tao capture the banality of every day life in Shanghai. Photographing everything from their friends to potted plants, this duo’s compulsion with documentation reflects on their generation’s obsession with recording the most mundane of events on the various social media platforms available to them – although the pair favours analog cameras over iPhones and webcams. With very little obvious narrative within the predominantly black and white work, Birdhead simply document what they see. Going between the ordinary and the extraordinary, the work simply offers a voyeuristic view into their world, filled with strange and humourous experiences.