He goes by the alias "No. 223," but Chinese photographer Lin Zhipeng has nothing to hide: The former magazine editor has documented his life—and boyfriends—for more than a decade.
His nude portraits of friends and lovers have been exhibited in Asia, Europe, and the U.S., and published in almost a dozen books and zines.
Born in Guangdong in 1979, 223 (a reference to the lovestruck police officer in Wong Kar-Wai’s Chunking Express) worked for years as a fashion-mag editor, including a seven-year stint at Guangzhou’s Modern Weekly. He also styled shoots for Vice, Nike, Converse, Glaceau Vitamin Water, and Bacardi.
In 2004, inspired by the documentary-style work of gay German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, 223 bought a Lomo camera and began capturing moments in his everyday life. (He admits his memory is awful.)
Exhibitions in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and across Europe followed, as did a collaboration with the Gap on a limited edition line of graphic tees. Shanghai’s M97 gallery will mount his new solo exhibition this summer, and Paris’ prestigious Editions Bessard is gearing up to publish a second 223 tome, following last year’s 500-copy Hidden Track.
Lin has also garnered a sizable following through his website and social media.
His work bears more than a passing similarity to that of fellow queer photographer Ren Hang, who committed suicide in February. Both artists disrupted mainland China’s art scene with taboo images of bodily fluids, erect penises, queer sex, and public nudity.
“I don't mind the comparisons [to Ren],” 223 tells me. "Although we had very different lifestyles and growing experiences, we both focused on Chinese youth culture and nudity. I knew Ren when he began photography—he started an online magazine and invited me to work as the art director. He also shot me as the cover for his magazine’s first issue."
Lin has been open about his sexuality from the get-go, unlike Ren and most queer artists in China. Even the artists participating in the provocative touring exhibition “Secret Love” remain closeted outside their inner circles.
Fortunately 223 has no problem securing out subjects these days: “There are many gay men who approach me to be models," he boasts. In fact, for the past several years he's been working on a series on same-sex couples in China.
"A lot of my friends do creative things, so they are probably more open than most," he told Theme magazine. "This allows me to photograph them the way I do. They understand what I’m doing."