Reuben Wu (@itsreuben) first fell in love with photography while chasing another creative dream. As a keyboardist, songwriter and producer in the electronic band Ladytron, he had the grand opportunity to travel the world and document his experience through an analog lens. From there, he began booking personal trips without any music gigs attached, strictly to take photos.
“One of the first places I went to was Svalbard, right next to the North Pole,” he says. “It was not going to be possible for me to find a DJ gig in the North Pole, so I had to book my own flight and just go. It is as much of a passion as music is. They’re both separate and intertwined as a creative outlet.”
Reuben’s love of strange landscapes took root during his childhood. He’d spend the gray English days poring over his father’s National Geographic magazines, escaping through his imagination to far away and exotic lands. Today, he’s able to do that in person, heading to remote and often dangerous destinations with his wife. For their honeymoon, they vacationed on the beaches of Indonesia, a place Reuben had always wanted to visit, due to its deadly volcanoes, in particular the so-called “mountain of fire,” Mount Ijen.
“I spent about 20 hours on the volcano wandering around with my camera,” he says. “It’s famous for this molten sulfur which vents out of the bottom of the crater as gas. Basically, it’s this huge toxic plume of yellow cloud, and you can’t breathe in it, so I had to wear a respirator and goggles. When it ignites, it burns with a blue flame, so you have to wait until it gets dark before you actually see it.”
Then there was the time the couple spent Christmas Day in the freezing fields of remote Utah so Reuben could capture the 1,500-foot-long (457-meter) “Spiral Jetty” by land artist Robert Smithson.
“It was a strangely magical place, frequented by … well, it was just us and these wild horses wandering around,” he remembers. “Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love people. But in order for me to get into a creative flow, I have to be by myself.”
It’s the same when he’s composing music, whether it be a solo piece or something with Ladytron (which has plans to release a new album later this year). His many disciplines bleed in and out of one another in his mind. Music and images are, for Reuben, separate entities hopelessly tangled.
“I do see photo, video and music as three essential parts of one thing,” he explains. “I’ve always composed music with visuals in mind regardless of whether I need to. I always visualize, ‘Oh this could be a scene from a film,’ and it’s the same when I’m taking photographs. I instinctively imagine music soundtracking that.”
That tendency has expanded into a full-time occupation. Reuben spends most of his time now filming his own short clips and scoring them, an act of expression he calls both “liberating” but also “quite stressful.”
Kind of like walking inside a poisonous volcano.
––Kat Bein for Instagram @music