Reality Through Visual Imagery: An Interview with Reuben Wu

In our latest interview, we caught up with Reuben Wu to discuss the multiple identities he creates in, the conversation on being an artist vs creative, technology lowering barriers to entry,  and much more. Don’t forget to give him a follow on social!

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Many people may know you as Reuben Wu, the photographer and others may know you as a member of Ladytron. Are you Reuben Wu with multiple identities or is it all one Reuben Wu?

It’s all one, really. The music and visuals all come from the same place. However, there is a difference in that when I’m making and performing music with the band, it’s collaborative. When I’m doing art, it’s just me, so I deal with them in my mind as separate entities.

As one who creates in photos and in sounds. What is it about the two art forms that make them so similar, so complimentary to one another?

We experience audio and visuals together. For example music and videos, the two are intrinsically linked. I’m pretty sensitive to details in music and audio. I’ll watch a music video and think how the visuals didn’t react at a specific moment of the music, so as soon as I started to make video with sound, I really dialed into those details. When those two things are created together, it can be a really complex, creative process, but it’s also very rewarding.

Ansel Adams revealed that he would often hear music while photographing (not in the sentimental sense, but structurally), “You see relationships of shapes. I would call it a design sense. It’s the beginning of seeing what the photograph is.” Would you say the same?

Absolutely. I’d even suggest that shadows and highlights are like bass and treble. It’s all about composition, about the balance between light and dark, high and low frequencies. It’s weird how many parallels exist between music and visuals. In the end, it’s like a story, a composition from start to finish.

You’ve talked about the conversation around being an artist vs a photographer. While you list yourself as an artist, tell us what you think the difference is between yourself and a photographer?

Just to clarify, that was an attempt for me to change the way I was thinking for myself, like a mantra. I was trying to tell myself to not think like a photographer, but rather like an artist. When I was thinking like a photographer, I found myself worrying and obsessing with the limits of the medium, when I should’ve been thinking beyond those limits. Take painters, for example, they literally create worlds within their artwork. They inspired me to think of the bigger message behind the photo.

While we are discussing artist vs photographer, another word that has just been loosely thrown around now-a-days is ‘creative’. Do you feel as if the barrier to entry has been reduced?

Definitely. Simply because of technology. Cameras keep getting better. Pretty much anyone can pick up a camera and be creative. With that said, there’s an interesting quote  from Stephen Shore that I read, “Yes, everyone is a photographer nowadays, but, even more people can read and write, and that doesn’t mean there isn’t space for poets and novelists.”

Technology has been able to lower barriers to entry. As I scroll through the work you’ve created, you were able to shoot for the Apple, Shot on iPhone campaign. That campaign is known to be very groundbreaking due to the fact that our everyday device was able to capture these photos. How was being apart of that campaign?

It felt amazing to be able to work for a company like that. Apple is always on the bleeding edge of creativity and technology. For the campaign, I ended up going to Indonesia into an active volcano shooting on a phone. But, I really felt like wow, these people believe in me this much. At that point, I was still pretty new to commercial work but I had my rep to guide me. The overall process was very educating for me as I worked with TBWA/Media Arts, Apple’s agency and learned a lot about the production process. There were also other people shooting for this campaign and it had to be synchronized with every other #shotonIphone shoot that night. All over the world, we were shooting for this campaign on the same night, Jennifer Bin in Shanghai, Elsa Bleda was shooting in Johannesburg, Ruairidh McGlynn in Iceland. It was pretty immense and had a real community aspect to it. Then to see the pictures on billboards all over the world, it was a special feeling.

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As one who has been able to develop a lot of branded content for clients, do you enjoy shooting for clients, or is the process a bit of a hassle at times?

I love it actually, especially when the idea is cool. I’ve been really really lucky with being able to work with great clients on ideas that overlapped creatively with my personal work. A lot of the commercial work I’ve done have been extensions of my personal work and even has created opportunities to elevate my personal work.

What are a few things young content creators should be doing to land themselves positions to create content for brands?

Make work that you want to do more of and focus on that. Don’t spread your creative vision too widely or too narrowly. If your work stands out, then you will stand out in the memory of the creatives at agencies that come up with the briefs that need your input. Also, keep your presence active on social media. Always remember to be a nice person and be professional, online and in person. The industry is a small world, people are always going to talk about whether you were a good person to work with or not. Even if your art is amazing, but you weren’t a great person to work with, people will remember that. I’ve learned that people want their job to be easy and by being professional you’ll always make their jobs easier.

Many times you hear how artists aren’t able to create in the way they would like when working with brands, however, it seems the complete opposite for you. The majority, if not all of your branded work I’ve seen, has your aesthetic all over it. How are you able to keep your vision, even when working with larger corporations?

I guess my work stands out and clients are dialed into seeing that. Agencies are essentially buying my vision and when they hire me, they want that same world I create in my personal work to come through in their branded content.

I’ve been very lucky where the clients have told me this is your work as well, and we want you to be happy with it. They’ve been very open to my input and have always taken my opinions into consideration. I’m grateful for that because I’m sure that’s not the case for a lot of photographers. At the end of the day, brands hire me because their idea needs to function. If I can elevate their idea in a way they might not have thought of, then that’s great and a true collaboration. One example is a shoot I did for Audi, which was called The Speed Of Light. I shot a car, moving light trails around it to create the illusion of speed. This wasn’t my idea. It was the agency’s, but my input was to create the light trails in a very specific way, which really complemented the shape of the car. That for me is an ideal situation, where I’m collaborating with the agency to create something which we can share creative ownership of.

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Final question, as you’ve grown over the years, what do you think is the biggest lesson you’ve learned over the years?

I have learned two very important things

  1. Be nice and be respectful.
  2. Never be satisfied with your last work. Always move on and strive to do better on the next project.

Written by: Nico Rud

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