When he’s not creating mixes for his band Ladytron, Reuben Wu experiments with different films and cameras to create stunning dreamscapes out of natural scenery. Read on and learn more about him and his artistic process after the jump.
Just a week ago, we gave you a glimpse of Reuben Wu’s dreamscape photographs. Not only have we got more of his captivating images, but we also got in touch with him for a quick chat. Here’s what he has to say.
Hi, Reuben! We’d like to thank you for finding the time for this interview! We’re excited to feature you again on the magazine. You may get this question in a lot on interviews but still we’d like to ask: how and when did you start shooting on film?
Well, I grew up with film cameras. I was never passionate about photography as a child – I was more into drawing. It was more natural to put pencil to paper than put light through a lens onto film, finish the film and develop the film. So it was something I learned to love once I realized the potential of using film in cameras.
What makes analogue photography special for you? Is there anything specific about shooting on film that makes it particularly stand out?
As far as images go, I think any photograph has to stand up regardless of what medium is was made with. But for me, using a camera with film in it mentally prepares me for the task ahead. The weight of a camera, the mechanics, the finite number of exposures available and the physicalness of what you take away with you is really important to me and helps me edit my photographs better. Almost as if the physical weight of the equipment allows me to truly appreciate the things and places I decide to take a picture of.
Being part of Ladytron, do you think that music intersects with your photography? Or does it go the other way around?
I have kept the two things quite separate until quite recently but there are some interesting parallels in my processes. Firstly, although I use a lot of old electrical and analogue musical equipment, it is incorporated with digital techniques to create something we couldn’t create so easily in a purely analogue world. This is similar to the way I do pictures. Modern ink jet printing, negative drum scanning and digital color correction are major factors in my post-production and are a leap ahead of what is possible in a darkroom in terms of how I envision the presentation of my work.
Secondly, and more to do with the conception, is that composing a picture is like composing a song. It is implicit. It can mean different things to different people, although the meaning for me is quite specific.
We see that you’re pretty much always on the road for your tours and projects. How does photography come in contact with your travels? What kind of places do you have in mind for your next travels?
I used to travel ahead of the group to our tour destinations and spend a week or two exploring and photographing, or I would have a DJ gig booked somewhere and I would take the opportunity to book travel a few days either side and see the place properly. It was a great way to see the world after having been carted around different cities and only getting to look around for a few hours before leaving again. I normally travel quite light (non-photo stuff) but my gear is quite heavy, and tends to double the weight of everything but at least it reminds what I’m doing.
Your travel photos, particularly those shot in Svalbard have a dreamscape feel to them. Are there any specific techniques that you used to create those shots? Can you share it to our readers?
I’m afraid there’s no technique for that other than having a Polaroid camera in my jacket. Svalbard is one huge dreamscape!
I took a Polaroid SLR 680 and a Polaroid 195, as well as my work horse the Mamiya RZ67. It was so cold that the film would not have developed unless it was inside my jacket. We were traveling by snowmobile so pulling Polaroids, storing them, changing film, lenses, cameras, all without dropping anything, was hard work. The film was all expired so they had a hard time developing anyway, but they portray my vision and memory of the place perfectly.
Do you have personal rules that you apply to your own work? Please share them with our readers.
It sounds obvious, but one of my friends and a talented photographer told me once it is always about the picture, and nothing else, regardless of camera or film. I try to keep that in mind when I am shooting on Polaroid or using interesting film types or cameras. It’s very easy to get trapped inside the nuances of your medium, and for a while it educates, but then you need to break your orbit.
What is your take on photography as an art?
I think it happens when you have developed your own style of expressing vision, whilst embracing what a photograph is and what it isn’t.
Which artists inspire you in your work? Any artists that we should follow?
Old favourites are Chris Foss, who made a lot of the cover designs for Asimov’s books, graphic artist Moebius, Landscape painters Caspar David Friedrich & Frederic Edwin Church. James Turrell and Charles Ross. My comic artist friend Jamie McKelvie and the painter Samantha Keely Smith. Photographers? Guy Bourdin.
Given the chance to collaborate with any artist or photographer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?
Tarkovsky or Kubrick or Herzog because there would be so much to learn from them.
We noticed that you also use a Holga camera. How’s your experience with the camera? What’s your favorite thing about it?
I started out using it in a quite haphazard way; cross-processing slide film and all that, but then I started to experiment with black and white infrared film, a Hoya R72 filter jammed over the lens, a tripod and a remote release. In broad daylight it’s around 1 second exposure and the results are quite magical.
Do you have a special film and camera combo that you use or prefer? What are those?
I’ve had some Kodak Aerochrome in 4×5 in storage for about a year which I want to load into my Aero-Ektar/Speed Graphic and I can’t wait to shoot some portraits with it. I just need to find someone to take photos of.
Any tips for shutterbugs trying to find their style in photography?
Trust your own instincts over others’. Be yourself and no one else.
Do you have any other works that you’d like to promote?
My next exhibition “Distant Suns” is opening at Schneider Gallery in Chicago on Jan 10 and is showing until Feb 22. I’ll be showing 8 of my favorite photographs from my travels. I’ll be there in person if anyone wants to come and chat. I’ll also be doing an artist talk at Latitude in Chicago, the digital lab where I produced my show on Jan 14th.
Last words for our readers?
Thank you very much for this opportunity to talk with you!
All images used in this article were sourced from Reuben Wu.