RongRong & inri

Trace the Photographic Journey of RongRong & inri recently opened in Chengdu Contemporary Image Museum. Art historian Wu Hong curated the retrospective, which features the works created by the two photographers from the last 20 years. A selection of their latest works, shown to the public for the first time, are also on show. For a better understanding of this artist duo, we select their major works and ask the artists’ or art historians to reflect on the pieces.

RongRong (China) and inri (Japan) have been working together since 2000. Their work reflects the intimate world they’ve created which pushes the boundaries of traditional black & white darkroom techniques. Their critically acclaimed series of works, such as Mt. Fuji (2001), Liulitun (1996-2003), and Tsumari Story (2012-2014), tell the story of their shared life and surroundings, delving into the rapidly changing world around them.

In 2007, RongRong & inri established the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre in the Beijing Caochangdi Art District. In 2008, they launched the annual Three Shadows Photography Award (TSPA), a prize aimed at discovering and encouraging China’s most promising young photographers. In 2010, they started a collaboration with the Arles International Photography Festival (Les Rencontres d’Arles) and co-produced the Caochangdi Photo Spring Festival in Beijing from 2010 to 2012. They have continued this collaboration at the Three Shadows’ Xiamen gallery, where since 2015 they have co-hosted the Jimei x Arles International Photo Festival. RongRong & inri were the Outstanding Contribution to Photography recipients for the 2016 Sony World Photography Awards for their significant impact on Asian photography.

Wedding Dress

© RongRong, Wedding Dress, 1997 No.5 (2) Beijing, 1997. Courtesy of Three Shadows Photography Art Centre
© RongRong, Wedding Dress, 2000 No.1 (4) Beijing, 2000. Courtesy of Three Shadows Photography Art Centre

‘There is a contrast between the shining satin gown and the debris-filled room that makes the photo take on the story of a secret romance in a haunted house. It seems to have come straight out of a melodramatic movie. The picture nevertheless escapes parody for there is raw emotion that animates the scene, refilling clichés with their lost meaning.’

—Wu Hong

Self-portrait series

© inri, Self-portrait, s-13, 1996-2000. Courtesy of Three Shadows Photography Art Centre
© inri, Self-portrait, s-15, 1996-2000. Courtesy of Three Shadows Photography Art Centre

‘When I started out, love was not in my repertoire, and even in my dreams I would not have envisaged myself thinking of love as a theme for my photographs. My idea of love is continually changing as I explore, going deeper and deeper into photography, and its inseparable presence within me leads, at times, to big struggles. Photography is my only method for learning about love, and love is the only idea from which photographs can emerge. In other words, love is the truth behind the photographs that I am seeking. And it was in the group of works presented here that I discovered the beginnings of that never-ending quest.’



© RongRong & inri, Caochangdi, 2004. No.2, 2004. Courtesy of Three Shadows Photography Art Centre
© RongRong & inri, Caochangdi, 2009. No.3, 2009. Courtesy of Three Shadows Photography Art Centre

‘We wonder how the Three Shadows gallery, brick to brick, became the art space we see in front of us today? It’s like the pregnancy of our child, which makes us experience the magnificence of life. It seems that both the external space and the inner world can repeatedly encounter the cycle of collapse and reconstruction. The relationship between family and individual or between family and extended family is like an extension of daily life. However, what is daily life?

Children grow up as we age. This series, Caochangdi, records the trace of time. Through the practice of observing, we made our own souvenir pictures. Thus, it conveys the initial purpose of photography: to record.’

—RongRong & inri

Tsumari Story

© RongRong & inri, Tsumari Story No.9-2, 2014. No.2, 2004. Courtesy of Three Shadows Photography Art Centre
© RongRong & inri, Tsumari Story No.7-1, 2012. Courtesy of Three Shadows Photography Art Centre

‘In Tsumari Story, RongRong & inri continue the unprecedented experiment they embarked upon in 2000, the recording of their life together not as a documentary but as a spiritual saga. In successive stages they appear in their photographs as lovers, as forlorn city dwellers whose surroundings are being torn down around them, as cultural entrepreneurs in the development of Three Shadows, and as proud parents while three sons are born in rapid succession. Since 2012 they have changed the focus of their photographic self-portrait and have begun to chronicle the development of their life together as a family in relation to nature, a deeply felt allegory which frequently echoes themes explored in older art with which they are not necessarily familiar.’

—John Tancock 

Jifei Kyoto

© RongRong & inri, Jifei Kyoto, 2015-2021. Courtesy of Three Shadows Photography Art Centre
© RongRong & inri, Jifei Kyoto, 2015-2021. Courtesy of Three Shadows Photography Art Centre

‘Of the Karesansui juxtaposed in the yard, the immortal lives have been sealed in the rocks and stones over several hundred years, or even more… Here and now, one will be mesmerized by its miraculous quintessence and deeply submerged by the splendid view of collapsed dead woods.

There is no doubt that global issues such as extreme weather, global warming and coronavirus have already influenced our normal life. Eventually, people will be returning to their natural routines. The waters of Kamogawa are floating continuously, as our families are growing up gradually. Through time, we accidentally realized the truth of photography. ‘Jifei Kyoto’ is literally ‘photography or not’.’

—RongRong & inri