Travelling became second nature and in his words, an addiction. But something was missing. “It was great, but music didn’t fully reward me. I knew there was an inner voice I wasn’t listening to.” As touring became a routine, he was looking for a creative outlet which wouldn’t take too much time: “Before I was doing a lot of drawing, but it takes a lot of time. Photography became that process.” Initially using photography ‘as a travelogue’, his interest in fine art led him to expand beyond documenting. He was driven to create his own worlds. He became an alchemist – testing films, lenses, lighting, and processes – inspired by the spaces he traversed: “I was doing these experiments in these incredible places”.
In 2011, Wu took a break from the band to focus entirely on his art. He replaced his film camera with a DSLR camera. It didn’t take long until he switched from stills to video. Once more, America was the setting for Wu’s fairytale. A music video commissioned by GE gave him a kick start in the creative industry. With his background in music production, Wu has the ability to mix sonic and visual experiences. And unlike the directors he worked with, he sets music to lead the images: ‘It’s my style. I came to a point where I would make images with a very strong connection to audio. Like short stories, they are fragments of films that haven’t been made yet. Fractal and incomplete, they become a chord, a drone; a motive.”
“What I’m interested in when taking these photographs is shooting in night time, shooting in the darkness. What comes with darkness is to get a more distilled vision of what’s in front of you. In the day time, too much light gets overwhelming. That’s what annoys me in current landscape photography, you cannot focus on one element in your composition.” That is where Wu’s ingenuity goes against the grain. Rather than using drones to film, he uses them as light carriers. “And to direct light is very important. It is exactly the same principle as chiaro obscuro
[the Italian Quattrocento
painting movement], where I start with a black canvas and I’m beginning to apply light rather than starting with light. And rather than hiding the source of light in the landscape, I’m exploring how to show the path of that light.”
Reuben Wu’s recurrent references to painting place his photographic techniques and aesthetics alongside the ‘hundred years of photography’ in the exhibition and book, The Shape of Light
, curated by Simon Baker, Shoair Mavlian and Sarah Allen for Tate Modern. In this case, photography’s aim isn’t to reproduce reality for truthful evidence, but to serve as a canvas for artistic distortions and experiments.
“I think that, instead of producing a banal representation of a place, I’d rather take my handkerchief out of my pocket, twist it to my liking, and photograph it as I wish.”
Man Ray, artist
Wu needed to wait for the technology to catch up with, and serve, his visions. His ongoing series Lux Noctis
is influenced by a confluence of 19th century romantic painting, science fiction, and late 20th century land artists. To bend the rays of light to his will, he composes his fantastic dreamlike cut out of the mountains with the most advanced toolkit
and thorough planning. An introvert iconoclast, he walks long hours with his equipment to assemble his scenes with infinite patience, counter-intuitive technology, in-depth research and preparation, and an inclination for solitude. He also speaks about how his work isn’t ‘invasive’ to the landscapes he works from, which is important to him at these times.
“I’m interested in unique landscapes. They appear otherworldly. They appear alien. But it’s important to me that they are actually part of this planet. They are places where we live. And it is quite a distinction between how I view my work and others view my work. People say: “It is very otherworldly”. But it is just worldly. It’s our own landscapes.”