November 2, 2015

Reuben Wu Went From Ladytron to Photographer of Cosmic Worlds

The photographer and electronic performer takes pictures of other planets here on Earth

  • Written by Chris Hatherill
  • Photography by Reuben Wu

After co-founding and touring with MMFF electropop foursome Ladytron at the turn of the millennium, Reuben Wu has gone on to forge a whole new career as a photographer and music video maker, creating and capturing ethereal worlds by exploring the ends of ours. Amuse pinned him down to chat about life on another planet.

So beyond music you make videos and take photos – what’s the piechart split up like these days?
I’m still doing all three but photography I pretty much keep that ticking all the time. I’ll always be working on something. It’s probably the thing I’m most at ease with, like I can just get into a flow state and just chill and edit and take photos – it’s more like a hobby than anything.

When did the photography side of things really kick off?
I actually started out drawing, that was my main creative outlet, as well as music, growing up. I was doing quite of lot of that but the problem with drawing is that it takes a lot of time and you have to sit there and look at something. When the band started touring I just didn’t have the time for it. I always had a camera with me and it started as a casual travelogue of the places we were going. We were quite a lucky band, really. We started traveling almost as soon as we formed; all of our gigs were overseas and we went to places like China and Russia and North America and Southeast within the first few years. It was a pretty crazy time. Because I was in band mode and partying the photography wasn’t a really serious thing, but then I began experimenting with different types of cameras and different films.

Was there one moment when it coalesced?
It was probably Svalbard – I thought to myself “I can’t get a DJ gig there, we can’t get a concert, it’s too small, I’ll just have to go.” It was bloody expensive, but it was really the places that I found and that I explored which really made it worthwhile. I think the thing that really got me excited was being able to make the camera see something the human eye can’t see – like night photography and long exposures and that kind of thing. From then it snowballed and I spent more and more time doing photography until it got to the point where if we were traveling somewhere for music I would just get my flight out booked two weeks earlier and go shoot stuff. I began traveling more and more remotely, and it became its own thing.

How do you get the whole alien/otherworldly thing that’s happening in your images?
I don’t know, I always try to approach things with a vision of what I want – like an internal idea of an image. I think the landscapes I gravitate to are ones that are surreal to begin with. It sounds like a complete cliché but I really do try to look for places that are off the beaten track, and come up with an alternative vision of something. It ceases to become a moment, it becomes a sustained amount of time – and I like that idea of an image showing more than just a split second. It’s the idea of time passing.

Is there a place that really stands out for you?
Hiking across a glacier in Southern Patagonia was a sublime experience. After having hiked 50 miles on the W trail in the Torres Del Paine region, stepping out onto a landscape of blue ice, neither land nor water, was very weird, especially one which was continually moving. It was a fitting finale to an epic journey where I was generally overwhelmed by the weight of stuff I had with me. I felt like I had transcended the land.

So who are the solitary figures in the photos – is it mostly you and your wife?
Yeah, it’s mostly either me if I’m traveling by myself, or my wife Kelly, who’s a teacher. She spends a lot of time with me telling her to ‘stand over there’. For me, it’s important for me to frame these places in the context of humans.

Besides cameras and film, is there anything else you always pack?
I have a few headtorches with red lights that good for preserving your night vision – and a good pair of boots. I’ve also got a little laser pointer on a mount that I made that works pretty well for focussing in the pitch black.

Where’s next on your list?
I really want to go to Greenland. There’s an old Cold War network of radar stations stretching across the Arctic, and a few of those are in Greenland. One of them, long since abandoned, has kind of been left on an icecap to be slowly subsumed by the ice.


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