Lead photo: Lux Noctis, one of Wu’s most recent projects.
Reuben Wu is a master in his own right. Musician, producer, and photographer, his images depict our planet in an ‘off-world’ sort of light. Reminiscent of fantastical stories, his epic landscapes harken both yore and future, with minimal setting and a somehow vibrant/faded aesthetic. He graciously agreed to answer a few questions and I humbly strained to come up with queries that could match his photos’ emotion and tone.
Your work is ethereal and otherworldly. What inspires you to create such whimsical and dramatic images?
I’m inspired by memory and imagination, and how one can see in a unique perspective and be able to make it real. I don’t see my images as being whimsical. I’m keen to show a subtle darkness in most of my work and I’m more inspired by the surrealists and the romantic painters of the 19th century than actual photographers because of their interpretation of reality.
You’ve found a way to reduce every seemingly unnecessary detail and only include what’s vital to your images. Has this been a conscious choice of your years of experience or one by happenstance?
I think this is down to how I see things and how I judge what is interesting about a scene. It is not always about minimalist approach, it can be about a harmony of elements in a composition which gives the images more simplicity.
It is probably how I’ve learnt to process visual information and to prioritise what is essential to the telling of a narrative, and as far as I can remember, it’s always been this way for me.
Isolation and remote locations seem to be a common theme. Are you drawn to these landscapes for any reason or are they necessary for your imagery?
Visiting strange and remote places is probably the closest I’ll ever get to truly discovering new and unexplored territory. Extreme environments draw me in because civilisations can’t get a foothold – survival or normal living is a struggle, and it’s the story of the struggle in the midst of adverse conditions which interests me.
I’m not necessarily drawn by extreme mountain climbing or an expedition experience. There are many adverse environments which are easily accessible, like the deserts of the US west.
I’m also attracted to places where there are no people. This can include popular tourist locations, but I prefer to visit them when crowds have left, at night, for example, in order to enjoy a fuller experience of these places.
Global locations also seem vital to your work. Do you have a bucket list or travel location you can’t wait to visit? Any reason for some of the locations?
I do have a list but I generally don’t announce what the locations are until I’m there 🙂 On the whole, they are pretty inaccessible places which require a bit of research to figure out.
What’s the scariest or unnerving experience you’ve had as a photographer, either in-field or project wise?
I had a security guard jump out at me with a gun one time I was exploring an abandoned amusement park in Spain. It was strange because the place had been derelict for decades. And scary because he had some big dogs.
Do you tend to work along when in the field or with another person/crew of people?
I prefer to work alone, I’m probably not very sociable when I’m out doing stuff especially when it’s personal work. However, when the circumstances are right, I’m a team player and will work easily with crew.
What’s one unexpected piece of gear that’s critical for you? Why?
A laser helps me focus in the dark. Both for manual and auto focus. It also helps when you’re auto focussing on a featureless surface like a white wall. Best not to use it for portraits.
What’s your favorite way to relax after a project is finished or a long day shooting?
Hot tub, whisky.
Have your success both on and off the stage influenced your work? If so, why?
It has influenced the extent to which I have travelled, but to be honest, the band [Ladytron] has been quiet for a few years and I have been able to concentrate fully on photography, video production, and my own music production, which has been very refreshing. I don’t think the idea of ’success’ has any effect on my practice, only the urge to do a job well and to push myself to be better, and different.
Favorite breakfast item?
Butter with English muffins.
If you could say one sentence to an admirer of your work, what would it be?
I always thank them and tell them how much I appreciate it.