Written by (作者): Jojo Chen 陈姣姣
Photos by (图片来源): Mark Ren 任晓冬
Before meeting Mark Ren, I took a look at some of his underwater photo shoots and was awestruck. The photos were simple and beautiful nudes and semi-nudes that sought to explore the beauty of the human form in an unknown environment. I had spoken with friends and acquaintances of Mark and each of their stories were more exaggerated and vivid than the next, so I nicknamed him “Crazy Mark”. I at first though that he would be arrogant and pretentious due to his career in the fashion industry, but I was taken aback when we met, as he had a strong personality and was both honest and friendly. As we took our seats in the coffee shop, I was eager to find out all the ins and outs of the fashion world and why he had chosen to do such irregular shoots.
Although the idea for doing an underwater photo shoot isn’t entirely original, it’s a first for Ningbo. Mark thought about doing it after he decided to do something creative for a summer photo shoot besides a beach or a pool. He found a professional underwater photo studio in Xiangshan Film and Television City and got to work planning. Because the studio was more geared towards movies and TV shows, they had never shot portrait photos and had to undergo a month of preparations for the shoot. To prepare for the shoot, Mark had to run, swim, eat meals of salad and raw beef each day, even going as far as running through the mountains nude in the early morning to make sure he had a uniform tan.
During the shooting process itself, Mark also ran up against difficulties. Having searched foreign sites for poses online as reference, he was unable to find anything that stood out and had to figure out poses with the photographer during the shoot. Additionally, the underwater shoot tested his physical ability, with the water being difficult to move around in freely. Communication between Mark and the photographer all depended on body language since the photographer was outside a glass wall. Along with being the model for the shoot, Mark had to serve as an assistant, needing to salvage props from the water. Having spent a total of 8 hours under water during the shoot, Mark also developed keratitis, a hearing impairment that stems from too much water in the ears, and other issues like the skin on his feet eroding in the water. What’s worse, the total cost of the photo shoot slowly rose to 25,000 RMB.
In the end, Mark was only satisfied with a dozen of the photos taken, but he saw what had worked and felt the whole endeavor worthwhile. A month before, his friends had joked a little about his special shoot, but when he posted the results in his WeChat Moments, the likes came forth like a tidal wave. He jokes with me that he rose to fame because of his naked portrait photos.
Mark has even more crazy shoots planned. “At the moment, I’m preparing to shoot an entire album with a bald head. Even though most people would never shave their heads unless they had to, I want to give it a try.” While it might be common practice in Western countries, doing shoots like these isn’t all too common in China, and Mark intends to continue breaking down barriers with his revolutionary shoots, doing one every three months.
These crazy stories aren’t limited to photo shoots. Ever since he was a child, Mark had wanted to become a model, but due to limitations in his height and appearance, his dream never came true. This changed in 2014 when he was given the opportunity to take part in a fashion show when the company he worked for organized one. To realize his dream, he had to undertake lots of preliminary work, including whitening his hair, darkening his skin, and hiring a professional trainer to teach him how to walk and pose during the show. To bring it full circle, he exercised three hours every afternoon to build the perfect body.
Even though he was only on stage for 52 seconds, Mark tells me he enjoyed the whole experience. “For professional models, the movements I was doing would have been dull and ordinary, but for me, it was all a dream come true. Even though I spent a lot of money to achieve this, I never regretted it for one second.”
Mark doesn’t do what he does to show off, but to experience his life to the fullest. Doing things that you want to do and not holding back, in Mark’s opinion, is the best thing you can do while striving towards a goal, this is what matters most.
Despite the fact that Mark has a long way to go in learning what he truly loves to do, he is putting his most basic life habit to practice: staying true to himself, something he sees as the most fashionable attitude towards life.