How photographer Reuben Wu makes sublime landscapes of the American West

Winford Hunter

Created by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

The 1st time Reuben Wu observed the warm sandstone hues and large, open up skies of the American West, he was seeing the landscapes move him by from the window of a tour bus.

The British visual artist, now dependent in Chicago, has turn into acknowledged for his sublime imagery of distant landscapes using drone lighting, maximizing craggy peaks with halos, or crafting glyphs in the sky like indicators from a supernatural entity. But for a very long time, artwork was just a passion undertaking whilst he focused on a audio job as one of the four customers of the synth-pop band Ladytron.

“(Photography) began as an all-consuming interest,” he discussed in a mobile phone interview. But when Ladytron took a break in 2011 just after 5 studio albums (they unveiled a self-titled sixth album in 2019, and the seventh, “Time’s Arrow,” this month), he began a new occupation from scratch. “Though the many others did their individual solo assignments, producing their own tunes and releasing their personal albums, this was my solo project.”

Wu’s imagery requires a traditional photographer’s mixture — light-weight and landscape — and marries the two in transformative strategies. He often commences with dusky night gentle or the ink-black shadows of evening, then strategically illuminates parts of the scene with custom-crafted client drones. In 1 impression, a vibrant horizontal line hangs about a glacier in the Peruvian Andes, revealing the brilliance of the ice in opposition to a dark sky. In a different movement piece, Wu simulated an electrical storm in Goblin Valley, Utah, but with perfectly straight strikes of light relatively than the jagged bursts of lightning.

The artist’s 2018 picture guide “Lux Noctis” is in the collections of the Guggenheim and Museum of Modern-day Art, in New York, and he has shot business perform for Apple, Audi and Google as perfectly as the DJ and audio producer Zedd. Previous summer time, Wu discovered a colossal undertaking for Nationwide Geographic: a include story and timelapse multimedia piece about Stonehenge, which showcased the enigmatic monument lit by his customized drones. In November, one of his NFTs, a 4K video loop titled “An Irresistible Force,” outperformed its significant estimate by about 25% through an auction at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, offering at 441,000 HKD (about $56,500).

“I could not have dreamed of the place I am now,” Wu said. “I just wanted to be capable to make a residing from carrying out art and from executing photography.”

Alien inspiration

Wu has always been drawn to wild, remote areas exactly where he could locate solitude. His moms and dads immigrated from Hong Kong to the British isles ahead of he was born, and he grew up an introverted kid in Liverpool, he stated, who failed to quite simply click with university. He was fascinated with science-fiction films that combine the alien with the each day, these as Steven Spielberg’s “Near Encounters of the Third Form,” which featured Wyoming’s Devils Tower as a site for extraterrestrial get in touch with. (Unfamiliar with American topography, he in the beginning imagined the butte, a nationwide monument, was a fictional geological entity, he discussed with a giggle).

The film’s visuals of remote desert scenes combined with eerie lights have been a formative inspiration in his own operate. “(It’s) cemented into my mind, the thought of these seemingly unattainable lights going via the sky, variety of like lookup lights on really common (American) landscapes,” he mentioned.

Reuben Wu has traveled extensively to remote places in the US and beyond for his work. Here, he traveled to Bolivia's salt flats, using the vast, empty land as his canvas.

Reuben Wu has traveled extensively to remote places in the US and past for his operate. Here, he traveled to Bolivia’s salt flats, utilizing the extensive, vacant land as his canvas. Credit history: Reuben Wu

He embarked on his very first cross-region images journey throughout the US in 2013, about a decade immediately after having a flavor on the road with Ladytron. The ensuing collection showcased vivid depictions of the Grand Canyon and South Dakota Badlands, as properly as a time-lapse picture of Devils Tower at evening amongst star trails.

Two many years later on, Wu identified the effect that drone lights could have on the normal environment even though working on an outdoor automotive shoot.

“I flew the drone up over some cliffs, and I was unquestionably fascinated by the result it experienced on the genuine landscape,” he spelled out. It designed the cliffs glow, reaching regions that had been normally impossible to mild artificially.

Wu's earliest inspiration came from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," inspiring his interest in the American West.

Wu’s earliest inspiration came from “Near Encounters of the Third Type,” inspiring his fascination in the American West. Credit rating: Reuben Wu

Wu rigs lights on drones to accommodate his wants on any presented shoot or task. The first iteration, he stated, which he utilised when the technological know-how was however nascent, was a “substantial” 8-rotor drone outfitted with homemade lights that only had about 8 minutes of flight time. The subsequent employed a 3D-printed bracket with an LED hot gentle, but continue to only gave him an additional two minutes in the air. The tech he makes use of now provides him a bit more respiration room, with a 50 percent hour to fly out, capture photos and return to him, but he is had to learn to function in the bounds of just about every established-up.

“I am a lot fewer nervous now, since I’ve crashed a selection of drones,” he reported. “And in the stop, they are just instruments.”

Experimental series

Following developing collection of still photos this sort of as “Lux Noctis” and “Aeroglyphs,” which experiment with ghostly lights and geometric styles in the skies, Wu located himself wanting to integrate motion and seem into his do the job since of his have background in songs. He started producing 15-second movie loops from his images, showing light-weight beams forming patterns or the moon arcing throughout the sky, to the beats of atmospheric electronic music that he created.

“These (works) were being incredibly substantially experimental and experienced no conclusion aim — they have been just points that I did for adore out of like,” he mentioned. “I couldn’t license them, I could not print them… and so they were being just there, stacking likes on my Instagram.”

Wu has been commissioned to shoot in various locations, including the New Mexico badlands. This image came from a 20-hour shoot.

Wu has been commissioned to shoot in various locations, together with the New Mexico badlands. This picture arrived from a 20-hour shoot. Credit rating: Reuben Wu

But in January 2021, Wu uncovered a way to make them a far more considerable element of his vocation when he was released to NFT artwork. He minted his very first “non-fungible token” on the market Foundation two months later — an “aeroglyph” of brilliant lines forming a rectangle over a beachside cliff. It marketed for 30 ETH ($45,000), a portion of which he donated to the National Parks Conservation Association and the AAPI Group Fund. Afterwards that yr, the internet3 arts firm Obscura commissioned him to deliver a new set of visuals titled “Aeroglyph Variants,” which took him into the New Mexico badlands for a 20-hour shoot that resulted in 55 illustrations or photos of the very same location, every with diverse lights disorders and designs. Wu has also experimented with presenting the work in distinctive means, from animations, to AR activities, to projection mapping shifting images onto bodily prints.

“It can be really substantially a hybrid medium, and so I might like to expand that horizon even much more, and believe about the finish objective for my do the job,” he explained. “Am I generating a good piece of artwork for men and women to glimpse at and recognize, or am I creating an expertise for individuals to share?”

Wu is leaning to the latter as he carries on to experiment with the sort his perform can take, but no make any difference the medium, his eyesight of and solution to the purely natural globe stays constant.

“A ton of persons generally say that my work is otherworldly — that is the very first phrase that people think of when they consider about my operate,” he said. “But I am not seeking to create an alien-on the lookout impression I’m trying to display that this is our world. And there are so lots of new means that are readily available to see it that can renew your standpoint.”

Next Post

The Landscape Awards: Five quickfire seascape photo tips

By Mike O’Connor | 16 January 2023 With the initial edition of The Landscape Awards set to close for entries in just a couple shorter weeks, we’ve gathered up a number of tips to get you pondering about how to shoot prosperous landscapes no make a difference your ability stage […]
The Landscape Awards: Five quickfire seascape photo tips