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Reflections on the Work of Reuben Wu

photo-eye Gallery Reflections on the Work of Reuben Wu Jamey Stillings
Photographers view the work of other artists using photographic processes through a unique and illuminating lens. This week, using his keen visual literacy and skilled eye, photo-eye Gallery Artist Jamey Stillings reflects on the work of Reuben Wu, currently on view at photo-eye Gallery.
 by Jamey Stillings 

Reuben Wu, AE 1144, 15 x 20 inches, Archival pigment print, edition of 10, $950

If you have yet to spend time with the photographs of Reuben Wu, please do so soon.

Photographers are both blessed and cursed when we encounter the work of fellow artists. By one measure, our visual acuity is refined and deep, having assimilated a vast aesthetic and historical lexicon of photographs throughout our lives Рimagery that contextualizes new work we experience. But by another measure, this visual literacy interferes with our ability to observe new work on its terms with focus, curiosity, and naivet̩. Instead of simple observation, we can easily be distracted by the technical.

Fortunately, Reuben Wu’s work manifests a visual sensitivity and finesse, which fuses with a refined aesthetic sensibility and technical mastery of his tools. Thus, we are freed to quietly be in the presence of each photograph appreciating it on its terms.

Wu’s work AE 1144, from the series, Aeroglyphs, places us in a different space than many of his other images. Instead of geometric light forms interacting with pristine, seemingly untouched natural landscapes, we encounter a scene that bears the unmistakable marks of human activity. The eerily glowing turquoise waters of the irregular canal, or ditch, are at once seductive and troubling. If we were to enter these waters, would they provide comfort and relaxation, or toxicity? Details along the water’s edge reveal information that, in theory, should help us discern scale, but these forms dissolve into a blackness where our ability to know what is geological or human-formed is masked. The twilight sky, with its panoply of colors and quiet drama, is inviting. Are we looking only at desert clouds or also the dissipating contrails of evening flights? While contemporary in the print’s vibrancy and hues, the surreal tones of water and sky, out-of-balance with how they would be seen in situ, evoke the mystery of Magritte.

Installation view of AE1144 and XT1768 in Aeroglyphs & Other Nocturnes at photo-eye Gallery 

Upon this scene, perhaps fully pre-visualized by the artist, but never experienced as a single moment, Wu scribes three central vertical parallel lines with the light of his drone. As with all light painting, these lines never exist in space to be seen by the naked eye. Instead, the open sensor, which replaces the sheet of film, collects the sum of his temporal activity. Thus, the landscape becomes a set or stage in which a performance occurs, but the results of this ephemeral series of events become apparent only in the finished image. While traditional land art leaves permanent or semi-permanent marks in the landscape, Wu’s art cannot be experienced except in the photograph.

Reuben Wu’s photographic vision – quiet, serene, contemplative, meditative, and formal – adds a valuable perspective to our collective photographic lexicon. Make the time to savor it.

• • •

Jamey Stillings
image: Zubin Stillings

Jamey Stillings is a Santa Fe based photographic artist represented by photo-eye Gallery, whose multi-decade career spans documentary, fine art, and commissioned projects. His work is exhibited internationally and held in the collections of the United States Library of Congress, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Nevada Museum of Art. With this book The Evolution of Ivanpah Solar (Steidl, 2015), Stillings won the International Photography Awards Professional Book Photographer of the Year, 2016.
The focus of Stillings’ project work is a long-term aerial project, Changing Perspectives: Renewable Energy & the Shifting Human Landscape, documenting renewable energy development around the world. His forthcoming book, ATACAMA: Renewable Energy and Mining the High Desert of Chile, will also be published by Steidl.

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