Ruizhe Hong: So Close When You Look Away

Ruizhe Hong: So Close When You Look Away


GUP Author

Laura Chen

Artist Website

Ruizhe Hong

If infatuation could talk, Chinese photographer Ruizhe Hong has rendered its speech visible in So Close When You Look Away: a series of soft, intimate and sensual images that feel like love letters delivered inside a heart-sealed envelope. 

Hong’s visual study of love is inspired by Roland Barthes’ book A Lover’s Discourse, which details the French philosopher and literary critic’s attempts to deconstruct one of the most universally shared human emotions: that of falling in love.

Love has no definite or singular language, but rather, is a combination of both positive and negative experiences. Being in love is overwhelming and powerful; it can turn prose into poetry. From ecstatic and blissful feelings of longing and togetherness, to moments of disappointment and despair — one can fluctuate between these opposing psychological states, enhanced by a sense of closeness or distance.

“Love is like a pendulum that swings between pleasure and pain. Sometimes, even though a couple is physically close, their souls could be alienated. One always waits for the other, and the other never waits,” Hong explains.

In this fog of mixed messages, the artist searches for the magic of love rituals, exposing his subjects’ fragility in moments of trust. In one image a cracked eggshell rests between the shoulders of two lovers, faced with their backs to one another. Perhaps symbolising the apprehensiveness and vulnerability that is felt in the early stages of a relationship?

In another, a thorn branch is held up along the spine of a bare upper body; a metaphor of a difficult or fragile relationship? Like a thorn in the flesh, a significant other can cause pain and discomfort. But love can also make the heart melt, as illustrated in an image showing someone holding a block of ice, as if making an offering; a declaration of their devotion. When absolutely smitten, the touch of a hand can warm us like no other. 

Like Barthes’, Hong’s philosophical meditation of a lover’s inner monologue explores how the mind of a lover is a complex and delicate organism, where muse meets memory and emotion to form an individual language. So Close When You Look Away introduces us to fragments of different love languages, and in doing so, entices us think about the ways in which we might prefer to express love to—and receive it from—a partner ourselves.

Ruizhe Hong is a photography graduate from the University of Westminster London. Working in portraiture and fashion, he predominantly shoots on film. His work has been published in i-D and C41 Magazine.