Reuben Wu, Liverpudlian DJ, designer, and keyboardist of Ladytron, received his first camera for Christmas when his dad secretly exchanged a toy gun from someone else for an Agfamatic 110. With a brief “purely digital period” in his twenties, he has been shooting with film and old manual cameras since.
He even inherited a Leica M from his grandfather, a Hong Kong based cinematographer: “It was unlike anything I had seen before, and I still shoot with it to this day.” As of late, he’s been doing a lot of Mamiya RZ67 medium format SLR and polaroids, either the SX70 or a 195: “both delightful cameras to use although they have their limits in challenging environments; the Mamiya is a heavy and bulky machine but the results are incredible.”
In the past, a lot of Reuben’s photography projects have been documentation of places he has visited while on DJ gigs and Ladytron world tours but these didn’t quite allow time to delve into explorations.
“[The] method only worked in places where there was a healthy audience for cinematic electro pop, and a tiny frozen island in the Arctic Ocean probably wasn't ever going to be on the tour path,” he says. “Svalbard” is his first book and it features about 60 photographs from the week spent on an island not far from the North Pole.
“We covered hundreds of kilometres across glacial wastes in snowmobiles, ate dehydrated space food, slept in tiny huts in the wilderness and slowly froze in the night watching aurora borealis,” says Reuben. An essay by his friend, Regina Peldszus, accompanies the images.
The extreme environments have been appealing to Reuben increasingly. He plans to continue documenting and publishing books on them rather than places he visits as a touring musician—“It definitely feels more meaningful to me as a photographer and as a human being to find and observe these marginalized zones.”
Favorite general film type?
Kodak Portra and Agfa CT Precisa I use for cross-processing. Polaroid; anything of original stock will do me.
Favorite thing about a photograph?
The subject, and how it is composed with the other elements in the image.
If someone said to you that digital photography is not as valuable (artistically or otherwise) as analog, what would you say?
I would say rubbish. It's not about the equipment you use, it's about the photograph. A lot of people think film imbues the photograph with more value. It doesn't, it's just how you choose to take a photo. I do think that film photography has become a discipline or a ritual for me though, which includes manual operation of old equipment. I like the contrast between the crudeness of some of the kit I use and the resulting photograph. For me, personally, it gives more meaning to the photograph because I remember how complicated it was to take the photograph, but in the end I use digital techniques to process the negatives anyway. The answer is, whatever it takes to get the results you want.
“I studied Product Design in Sheffield, UK and went on to practise as a designer for about 4 years. After a short time, the band became successful enough for all of us to go full time with music, and I left Design to embark on our first ever North American tour. A real baptism of fire. I still love design and on my travels I occasionally come across things I created years ago.”