Reuben Wu Interview
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February 5th, 2022

Reuben Wu Interview

By Aaron Anderson

AA: I’m very interested in the start of your career as a photographer? What inspired you to pick up the camera? How did that grow into the landscape photographer you are known as today?

RW: I trained and worked for a few years as an industrial designer, but as a child, all I wanted to be was an artist. Becoming a designer, and then a touring recording musician for 10 years after, was a kind of a primer to help me ease into a career in art, through photography. My arrival in photography came about via a number of things: a lifelong desire for adventure and solitude in wild places, the compatibility photography has with travel, and the opportunities for innovation and experimentation in photography as a craft.

Had I started photography before my time in design or music, I would never have become who I am now. It feels like my life has been a very specific chain of events that has made me the person I am today. My work makes sense in view of those aspects and to me are implicit in my work.

It was my disillusionment in my design career and success with my band that made me become a full time musician, it was travel with the band that made me pick up a camera, and eventually it was the hiatus from the band which made me focus my attention to photography as a career.

AA: You were recently chosen as one of the curated commissioned artists for Obscura. How did that come about? What was your drive to tackle such a project for Obscura? How was your experience working with the Obscura team?

RW: When the team at Foundation sent over Alejandro Cartagena’s Carpoolers project (a series I loved, which I was already aware of), I realized at that moment that something was about to change and there was a chance for greater things to happen for photography in this space. Since then we have connected and remained in touch and I’ve been admiring his many projects and ventures. In November he reached out about the Obscura commission and we had a call which led to the exciting idea of a ‘generative’ photo series concept where the rapid movements of a lighted drone could differentiate a series of 55 images, like a photographic Art Blocks. The idea of ‘generative’ in photography has been talked about a lot, but this felt like a way of doing it that was faithful to my processes and concepts and unique to me.

For me, it made sense to create a collection in this way, where each image is technically a 1/1 but they primarily work as a collection of 55. I also liked the idea of a commission vs an open ended personal project. I have done a number of commissions for NFTs but this was by far the most ambitious in concept and production, and it’s always nice to have a definitive end point to work towards.

Reuben Wu, Aeroglyph Variations, Obscura Curated
Reuben Wu, Aeroglyph Variations, Obscura Curated

AA: I received a little bit of information about your collection before the drop, and even before seeing the images it sounded highly innovative to me. You seem to have placed yourself into the wild for days photographing the work. How does that process start for you and what are the kind of obstacles you have to overcome in order to continuously shoot under such conditions?

RW: I thrive in remote solitary locations. I need that space to create without distraction and without a sense of self. It becomes an opportunity to create an ephemeral bubble of alternate reality.

I created this series in a wilderness area in New Mexico. After a scouting day, I set up my tripod and left it overnight so that when I returned in the darkness at 6am the next morning, I would only need to attach the camera and not have to worry about resetting composition/focus et al. It was a 20 hour shoot in total, and my assistant and I had to make multiple hikes between our base camp and location over the course of the shoot. When it was broad daylight and the lighting wasn’t as nice, we were able to rest at our vehicle for a few hours and fly a drone out to the location to monitor our equipment as a very effective ‘aerial sentry system’. In all, I think we walked more than 8 miles each that day.

Aeroglyph Variations #55 by Reuben Wu, Obscura Curated Commission
Aeroglyph Variations #55 by Reuben Wu, Obscura Curated Commission
Aeroglyph Variations #5 by Reuben Wu, Obscura Curated Commission
Aeroglyph Variations #5 by Reuben Wu, Obscura Curated Commission

AA: Is being innovative as an artist important to you?

RW: For me it is the only way I can push myself as an artist. Technology is something that evolves continuously. Why not use it as inspiration to develop new artistic ideas? It’s a way of staying excited, motivated and genuinely interested in the work I do. The main challenge though is to make sure that the concept remains true, without deference to technology. Technology merely helps me tell a story I wouldn’t be able to without it.

For me as a photographer inspired by travel in a world which has already been fully documented, my direction for ‘exploration’ now takes on a different, more metaphorical dimension

Aeroglyph Variations #18 by Reuben Wu, Obscura Curated Commission
Aeroglyph Variations #18 by Reuben Wu, Obscura Curated Commission
Aeroglyph Variations #53 by Reuben Wu, Obscura Curated Commission
Aeroglyph Variations #53 by Reuben Wu, Obscura Curated Commission

AA: Also, random question but what do you eat during these extremely long shoots?

RW: Soylent, Haribo bears (although I’m mostly vegan now)

AA: The description of your collection sounds like you’ve created the first generative photo collection in the NFT space through variations of some sort. Could you elaborate on that for those of us who are not privy to the intimate details and nature of this kind of NFT collection?

RW: The series takes inspiration from generative (algorithmic) art and photo series such as Carpoolers by Alejandro Cartagena. I was interested in this idea of 55 versions of the same photo, each of them unique in combination of traits, such as time of day, type of light form created by the drone, and other attributes like the inclusion of me standing in the distance.

It also has a direct link to my own processes. My work typically takes a whole day to capture anyway, and one of the aspects that is usually invisible is the process of selection, experimentation and editing of many many permutations before I decide on a single direction for a single image. This collection examines that process and parses it as a spectrum of possibilities.

The notion of a photographer as an algorithm, as the code that creates, is fascinating, and honestly, this is ultimately what art is all about, but it is super interesting to frame it in a POV of generative art.

Aeroglyph Variations #3 by Reuben Wu, Obscura Curated Commission
Aeroglyph Variations #3 by Reuben Wu, Obscura Curated Commission

AA: What is your take so far on the NFT Photography space? What are some good and bad experiences? How has it changed your career as an artist and is there a clear before and after for you?

RW: I’ve always been an outsider. I saw it at first as a detriment, but eventually I came to see it as an advantage, because when you have an outside mentality, you end up looking into many different windows. Despite that, I’ve honestly not felt this much ‘belonging’ in a community ever before in my life. This both excites and scares me. The best thing about it is that I’m not limited to the photography space, we are a whole gamut of different artistic disciplines. As someone who’s never totally identified as a photographer, but more of an artist with a camera, it’s a wonderful time and space to be involved with.

I’ve definitely made mistakes during my year in this space, but it is clear that if you act with conscience, transparency and with pure intentions, people will understand and respect you for it. As for my career, I still love and do a lot of client work, and there is now a more even balance with the personal projects (NFT). Despite that I do feel busier than I have ever been in my whole life. It’s been transformative to my career as an artist.

Aeroglyph Variations #24 by Reuben Wu, Obscura Curated Commission
Aeroglyph Variations #24 by Reuben Wu, Obscura Curated Commission

AA: You are an inspiration for many including myself. You’ve worked with brands and galleries throughout the course of your career. How do you handle being seen in this way by the public?

RW: Thank you! It’s only become apparent to me recently that so many look up to me in this space. I think that is the fundamental flaw of Instagram and web2. There is not enough conversation and it’s easy to feel disconnected from your audience and peers. The more I am involved in NFTs, the more I share on Twitter and the more I engage, the more deeply connected I feel to the artistic community.

Having spent a good part of my life in a well known band, I already adjusted early on to the idea of my name being known. It was never a huge jump to where I am now, and more of a slow build starting from 2011 when I decided to focus on photography and less on music. Instagram was a big part of that and I’ve been able to grow my audience to 270K without any help from the platform. I also concentrated on building my name outside Instagram (press and media, brands I respect) as I was very wary of relying too much on a single platform. I think having a reputation beyond IG was a big factor in my successful entry in NFTs.

For someone who has spent most of their career on stage performing to thousands of people, it’s ironic how introverted and terrified I am of public speaking. I think the benefit of that fear is that it always keeps me grounded and helps me focus on creating work.

AA: What kind of future do you see for photography through NFTs? How do you plan to navigate through the space and guide where NFT Photography can go moving forward? aka wen wuDAO?

RW: I have no idea but I know it’s going to be very interesting. I have no roadmap; just a compass. And friends to help guide me.


To view the full collection of Aeroglyph Variations by Reuben Wu, visit:

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