It’s hard to pigeonhole Reuben Wu. The creative polymath is perhaps best known for co-founding the electro band Ladytron, but he’s also written songs for Christina Aguilera, directed music videos for Trent Reznor and launched a whole second career as a photographer.
It was the latter that recently brought him to Hong Kong, where he took part in a talk series hosted by furniture maker Steelcase about Lux Noctis, a photography series in which he uses LED lamps attached to drones to create eerie halos hovering above otherworldly landscapes. The series has won him multiple awards and been transformed into a book published by Kris Graves Projects, which has been added to the permanent libraries of the Guggenheim and Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Before the second edition of the book is launched later this month, Wu reveals where he shoots these striking photographs and explains how he’s inspired by everything from 19th-century German paintings to Blade Runner.
How long have you been working on the Lux Noctis series?
In 2014, I started to think properly about using drones for artificial lighting in landscape photography. Then I worked on it in the end of 2015, spending five days shooting. I first shared the Lux Noctis series in 2016. It’s an ongoing project, and the second series was introduced in early 2018. Both series are included in the book.
Where did you take these otherworldly photographs?
I took most of the photos in the USA because I’m based there, and some were shot in Greece, Peru, and a couple of places in the UK. I do not limit myself on where to take the pictures, sometimes I just happen to be at a nice location and [get to] work. For instance, one of the pictures was taken when I was on holiday in Santorini in Greece.
You’ve previously said that the series was “influenced by ideas of planetary exploration, 19th century sublime romantic painting and science fiction.” Were there any particular 19th-century Romantic paintings or sci-fi books or films that inspired the series?
Caspar David Friedrich really is an inspiration. He was one of the first landscape painters to portray winter landscapes as bleak and dark, while everyone else was always portraying them in a Christmassy and beautiful way. I really like the message of his paintings.
His paintings create certain kinds of melancholy, but they are also sublime. They express a powerful sense of terror and helplessness when you see his landscape paintings. That’s one of the things I am trying to channel in my photos.
In terms of films, I am more influenced by speculative sci-fi, such as Blade Runner, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and 2001: A Space Odyssey, rather than sci-fi films like Star Wars. It feels closer to home and more possible.
As far as planetary exploration goes, I grew up during the space race. There were a lot of pictures of moon landing, the shuttle, and those kinds of thing. I’m partly inspired by that. My work is a combination of scientific documentary and artist impression.
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