Robert Zhao Renhui

1983, Singaporean, born in Singapore
Nominee - Prix Elysée 2017

Singaporean photographer Robert Zhao Renhui was born in 1983. Robert studied Photography in the United Kingdom at Camberwell College of Arts and the London College of Communication before returning to his home to found the international organization, the Institute of Critical Zoologists – aiming to “develop a critical approach to the zoological gaze, or how humans view animals”. His photographic work addresses environment, man’s relationship with nature, and related issues of morality and ethics – paying close attention to how our attitudes and opinions shape assumptions about the natural world.

His work was awarded the Deutsche Bank Award in Photography in 2011 by the University of the Arts London and figures in many public and private collections.Recent exhibitions of Robert’s work have been in the Centre for Contemporary Photography (Melbourne), Jimei X Arles Festival, Noorderlicht Photo Festival, Format Festival, PhotoIreland, Flash Forward Festival, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum (Japan), Seoul Arts Center (Korea), GoEun Museum of Photography (Korea) and Shanghart (Shanghai). Finally, Robert has undertaken numerous research residencies which have nourished his engaged perspective, notably at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, the National Museum of Wales, the Earth Observatory of Singapore, the Arctic Circle Residency and the Kadist Art Foundation.


Natural History

For Robert Zhao Renhui, nature conservation and appreciation is and always has been about fulfilling people’s need for nostalgic wildness, however contrived and fictitious it may be. He proposes to embark on a photographic project for the Prix Elysée, investigating and documenting the different ideas we have constructed of nature.

“Nature is no longer quite the same. Today, more tigers exist in captivity than in the wild. Conservationists have to work hard to keep invasive species from disturbing a ‘natural’ state. My project aims to highlight the way that nature is being ‘maintained’ and managed in today’s society. The project aims to grapple with the complex realities of nature by looking at various ecological projects in the world, with a focus on Asia. I believe nature is only able to exist within limits inscribed by humans. A drama is unfolding across the world where we are trying to preserve what we can and many have travelled far and wide to experience authentic encounters with nature.

While conservationists are fighting hard to eradicate cats from several remote islands, at the same time, tourism is boosting in other islands where cats roam in the hundreds on ‘cat islands’. Such is the irony of our relationship with nature.

In this project, I will try to document the different ideas we have constructed of nature.”