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When did you first begin specializing in landscape photography? I had always been drawn to mountainous landscapes, from hiking as a young boy. But when I began touring with my band, Ladytron, from 2002 until 2011, I got to see all these magical places in the United States for the first time, and they seemed so different from the United Kingdom. Weeks before the band would tour and play shows abroad, I would rent a car, bring my camera and explore these places. Photography fed off my band tour life. Then, when the band took a break in 2011, I wanted to do something else and at that point, my heart was really in the visual arts. I decided I was going to do photography, and shooting landscapes was what I loved the most.

What led you to begin using light-carrying drones to illuminate landscapes, as you do in your series Lux Noctis and Aeroglyphs? I was looking for a way to be more artistic in photography. One night, I was shooting a time lapse out in the desert. It was about 2:00 a.m., and no one else was around. Then, all of a sudden, this pickup truck came out of nowhere with its headlights on. At the time, I was annoyed because it was ruining my picture. But when I looked at the picture afterwards, I realized that it was an incredible juxtaposition of artificial light in a natural environment. That got me thinking about how I could get creative in landscape photography by doing all the lighting myself. I was also shooting with cameras on drones, but they weren’t any good for shooting at night. So, I started using drones to carry lights instead, and that translated over to the idea of these predominantly dark landscapes only lit up in areas that I wanted to show. This gives me a lot of control over lighting and mood, rather than having to depend on natural lights.

Why do you like to shoot at sunset and at night? The golden hour, the period right before the sun rises and after the sun sets, has the nicest natural lights. It is such a low angle; everything is bathed in this lovely soft color. I particularly like shooting after sunset because all the light reflects off the sky as this beautiful, soft pastel that doesn’t produce any shadows. I’m also interested in taking pictures at night because I’m able to make the camera see beyond what the human eye can perceive. When I use lights attached to drones, I need it to be as dark as possible so I can utilize the aerial lighting to its full potential.

How do you scout locations? For places that I have not already been to, I do research online. I can go on Google Maps or social media and do image searches to see what the lay of the land is like. That way, when I get there, I already have a good idea of where everything is. During the day, I use my phone as a GPS tracker and follow a map as I take reference photos. I allow for a day or two for scouting so I can figure things out—what the light will be doing, where the sun is going to be setting, what the weather’s going to be like, whether it is going to be a full moon, where the Milky Way is. I need to have everything dialed down before it gets dark; otherwise, shooting will take a while.

I’m also interested in taking pictures at night because I’m able to make the camera see beyond what the human eye can perceive.”

Which photographers and artists have most influenced your photography? Painters like Caspar David Friedrich, Georgia O’Keeffe, the surrealists, the expressionists, the Land Artists and the Bauhaus movement, as well as artists like Moëbius, Storm Thorgerson and Rodney Matthews. I see my work as being inspired by those kinds of created worlds rather than a camera pointing at a subject. I am similarly inspired by people who make films, like Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch and Andrei Tarkovsky. They’re able to literally create worlds, these incredible visions. I see my work in a similar vibe where they are like still frames from films that haven’t been made.

What was it like to come back to Ladytron after the band’s break? One of my motivations for doing photography was that it felt like my solo project whereas the band has always been collaborative. So, the break was useful. Because we had been touring together for ten years, I wanted to sit down and review where I was and what I was doing. Those seven years I had as a hiatus from the band gave me the opportunity to work on the visual side of things.

Now I’m even approaching music differently than I did before. Coming back now, there’s less weight in thinking that this has got to be anything other than a component of my larger career. The first time around, I felt like I needed to make music my main thing. But since photography became my primary work, I see the band as more of a project where I get to make and play music with my friends and travel to cool cities. It feels like there’s now a balance. Because of the pandemic, we don’t know when we’re going to be touring again, but we’ll continue to work on new music.

What is your photography life like now? I’ve been using this time to plan future projects, practice and run tests. I’ve been doing webinars and virtual presentations too—speaking about my work has been quite fun.

I also recently bought a large format printer, and being able to print in my studio has been a huge boon while being at home. Printmaking is the end result of the photography process, a satisfying conclusion to the whole experience of being on location with a camera. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do print sales and donate a portion of the profits to COVID-19 charities.

The rest of my workspace is centered around my desk. I’ve been thinking about how I work and how conducive the environment can be made so I can work better. The pandemic has made me sit down, look at everything and try to improve.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given in your career? It was something I read decades ago, which is to embrace change. I think how well you deal with change is indicative of how well you can remain nimble and creative in this era. In the past, it has helped inform me to make fundamental changes in my life and reinvent myself to adapt to new environments.

Born in Liverpool, United Kingdom, Reuben Wu is a Chicago-based multidisciplinary artist working in photography, video and music. Coming from a background in design, he cofounded the band Ladytron, releasing six albums as well as writing and producing music for Christina Aguilera and remixing others such as Nine Inch Nails and Blondie. Wu’s book LUX NOCTIS was published in October 2018 by Kris Graves Projects. His work has been published by National Geographic, TIME and WIRED and has been commissioned by clients such as Apple, Audi and Samsung. Wu’s fine art work is represented by photo-eye Gallery and his commercial work by Illuminated Media International. He is also a Phase One Global Ambassador. 

Photo credit: Lucy Hewett

 

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