Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN
The first time Reuben Wu saw the warm sandstone hues and vast, open skies of the American West, he was watching the landscapes pass him by from the window of a tour bus.
The British visual artist, now based in Chicago, has become known for his sublime imagery of remote landscapes using drone lighting, enhancing craggy peaks with halos, or writing glyphs in the sky like signals from a supernatural entity. But for a long time, art was just a passion project while he focused on a music career as one of the four members of the synth-pop band Ladytron.
“(Photography) started as an all-consuming hobby,” he explained in a phone interview. But when Ladytron took a break in 2011 after five studio albums (they released a self-titled sixth album in 2019, and the seventh, “Time’s Arrow,” this month), he began a new career from scratch. “While the others did their own solo projects, making their own music and releasing their own albums, this was my solo project.”
Wu’s imagery takes a classic photographer’s combination — light and landscape — and marries the two in transformative ways. He often begins with dusky evening light or the ink-black shadows of night, then strategically illuminates portions of the scene with custom-built consumer drones. In one image, a bright horizontal line hangs over a glacier in the Peruvian Andes, revealing the brilliance of the ice against a dark sky. In a different motion piece, Wu simulated an electrical storm in Goblin Valley, Utah, but with perfectly straight strikes of light rather than the jagged bursts of lightning.
The artist’s 2018 photo book “Lux Noctis” is in the collections of the Guggenheim and Museum of Modern Art, in New York, and he has shot commercial work for Apple, Audi and Google as well as the DJ and music producer Zedd. Last summer, Wu revealed a colossal project for National Geographic: a cover story and timelapse multimedia piece about Stonehenge, which featured the enigmatic monument lit by his custom drones. In November, one of his NFTs, a 4K video loop titled “An Irresistible Force,” outperformed its high estimate by over 25% during an auction at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, selling at 441,000 HKD (about $56,500).
“I couldn’t have dreamed of where I am now,” Wu said. “I just wanted to be able to make a living from doing art and from doing photography.”
Wu has always been drawn to wild, remote places where he could find solitude. His parents immigrated from Hong Kong to the UK before he was born, and he grew up an introverted child in Liverpool, he said, who didn’t quite click with school. He was fascinated with science-fiction films that mix the alien with the everyday, such as Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” which featured Wyoming’s Devils Tower as a site for extraterrestrial contact. (Unfamiliar with American topography, …….