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Behind the Image- LN 0377 (Time Present and time past Are both perhaps present in future III) by Reuben Wu


photo-eye Gallery Behind the Image:
Reuben Wu's LN 0377
Article and Interview by Alexandra Jo Wu’s approach is ephemeral and leaves no lasting detrimental effect on the land. His work is more about pointing to a sense of compressed time, using light and long-exposure photography to mark and record a transitory human presence in the landscape, inviting viewers to think about humanity’s place in the vastness of our planet’s history.

Reuben Wu, LN0377 installed at photo-eye Gallery for Aeroglyphs & Other Nocturnes
Anyone familiar with the American west is also aware of the presence of petroglyphs, or prehistoric carvings in the surface of rocks and landmasses, smattered across the landscape. These esoteric signs, including waving lines, spirals, circles, and arrows, have no clear message attached to them, as any original meaning has been obscured, shed, lost through time and change. Today these marks punctuate the presence of an ancient humanity; a lasting, archaic declaration of “I was here.” Petroglyphs compress time in a way that makes me feel small within the span of years that stretch between my own body’s existence and the hands that carved them. And yet, I simultaneously feel a connection to the whole arc of my species’ history. This is the very same sensation I get when viewing photographs by Reuben Wu.

Wu uses man-made lights attached to drones to illuminate monumental landscapes found in locations spread across the world, in gestures that parallel both the ancient symbols of petroglyphs and the explorations of the land art movement in the 1970’s. He uses contemporary technology to interact with the landscape in a way that flows in continuity with the eternal human impulse to document our presence. However, Wu’s approach is ephemeral and leaves no lasting detrimental effect on the land. The photograph becomes the lasting mark. And for Wu, the actual symbols drawn in the air by the drones have no specific meaning in and of themselves. The work is more about pointing to that sense of compressed time, using light and long-exposure photography to mark and record a transitory human presence in the landscape, inviting viewers to think about humanity’s place in the vastness of our planet’s history.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Wu about LN 0377, one of the first images in which he used drones and light in this unique way:

Reuben Wu, LN 0377 (Time present and time past Are both perhaps present in future III), 
Archival Pigment Print, 38 x 50 inches, Edition of 3, $5,000 (Unframed)


“That image [LN0377] was from the first attempt at doing an idea which I’d had in my mind for a couple of years prior. Back when I was thinking of what this project could be, I wanted to light all of these vast landscapes under the light of the drones. I was pretty excited about the maneuvers that the drone could do…one was called “the orbit” where you could lock the position and path of the drone (having it fly in a circle automatically) but control the speed and radius at which it flies. I thought, if I put a light on that I could move the light around the landscape in this magical, impossible way. I hadn’t tested this technique until that point.

Reuben Wu photographing on location while making
work for Lux Noctis
I was in a place called Blue Canyon on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona, which is a place where you need permission and a guide to have access to the land. If you go there without a guide then you’ll be escorted off the grounds. That place has this sacredness to it, which I don’t feel in lots of other places. So I spent the afternoon and night with a guide just walking around, shooting these pictures. This image was either the last or second to last photo that I shot. It worked really well…honestly better than I expected.

One of the things I love about this project is the fact that there is tension between the natural textures and surfaces of the terrain and the clean geometry of the light path. I see it as kind of like my version of the land art movement. Where the land artists do their thing by touching the landscape, altering it in some way, building, changing something, I wanted to do something light-based which didn’t touch the landscape or interfere with it in a permanent way.  Obviously, it’s a noisy, annoying drone while it’s flying, but it’s not painting or carving things or leaving any lasting effect. And for me, it’s more about the light that’s cast onto the rocks than the path of light itself. The path shows how I’m intervening into the landscape, but the light that’s shown down onto the land really makes the image for me. It makes it real… that kind of lighting is impossible to create in Photoshop, it’s a real thing that’s happening.

I also see this project as speaking to something bigger than humanity. Humanity is such a tiny blip on the time-span of the planet. It speaks to something that is more based in the language of geology and the elements, like the way that a rainbow is elements of light playing with precipitation, and this very pure visual effect occurs. The light paths only exist in the photograph. You don’t see the shapes in person because your eye only sees a single point of light moving. These shapes have to be recorded with a camera to be seen, which points to the photograph and the camera being able to show what you can’t see with your eye. There is something there for me, about being able to use the camera in this way. You can only see what is in front of you one moment at a time with your eye, but using a camera in this way, you can see what’s happening over the course of a few seconds. This is expanding on the element of time and that capacity of the camera being able to show beyond what the eye can see." — Reuben Wu


Wu's solo exhibition at photo-eye Gallery, Aeroglyphs & Other Nocturnes, runs through November 16, 2019.


All prices listed were current at the time this post was published.

For more information, and to purchase artworks, please contact photo-eye Gallery Staff at:
(505) 988-5152 x 202 or gallery@photoeye.com

Exhibition Catalogue Available for Preorder
(Shipping Late October)

Aeroglyphs & Other Nocturnes: Photographs by Reuben Wu
Kris Graves Projects, Queens, New York, United States, 2019. In English. 30 pp., 16 color plates, 8½x9" 





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