Norway’s been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently, and last week’s polar bear attack on its chilly outlying Svalbard islands just the latest chapter in a particularly harrowing month.
SevenStreets loves Norway. In fact, I went to Svalbard on holiday a couple of years ago and left my heart there. It’s fine, it’s a form of cryogenics. In fact I briefly considered setting up a city based website in its huddled little ‘capital’, but Longyearbyen Confidential got there first.
Sadly, my holiday snaps weren’t in the same league as Ladytron’s Reuben Wu, who’s just published a large format photography book (a print of which is available as part of the Print Aid project for Japan) detailing the sharp dressed producer’s expedition to this rocky scatter of Arctic islands this Spring.
We spoke to Reuben about the book, which is available in both 7 and 12 inch versions. Naturally.
A few things initially piqued my interest. I had been doing a lot of night photography, especially photographing star trails and landscapes under moonlight. I went to Tromsø (a very northerly city on the mainland) with a friend the previous year to see the aurora borealis but ended up seeing nothing, and not wanting to give up, I decided to go even further north this year to get the full polar experience. I also wanted to push myself technically and to place myself and my camera in an extreme environment. I had been in trying situations before but never as challenging as this. I had also heard of the Global Seed Vault and the abandoned town of Pyramiden, which were locations I needed to visit before I popped my clogs.
I’ve spent a lot of time in rugged mountainous places but I never seem to get used to the sheer size of them. I’m always surprised by the scale of the landscapes – I don’t think any amount of researching on Google Earth can prepare you for it. Living there? Maybe for a while, but travelling to band rehearsals would be a bit of a nightmare.
At first glace, Svalbard’s quite a monochromatic environment, but in your book you use a lot of colour effects…
One of my lasting impressions of the place was that it wasn’t black and white. I think it’s easy to come to that conclusion though, as against the snow, many things can appear black. After a few hours of being in the field (or ‘the terrain’) as the Norwegians call it, your eyes adjust and the landscape literally comes alive with colour. Especially with such a low sun which skims the horizon, you get the feeling that this is a place of eternal sunrise, and the films I used merely emphasised the incredible range of colours.
I arrived in Svalbard with a lot of places in mind that I wanted to see. Luckily, I saw all of them, but even then I could have done with another week to explore the rest of the archipelago. The snowmobile expeditions took me to Pyramiden, the abandoned Russian mining town, which was half buried in ice and snow and full of incredible Soviet ruins. Staying in a tiny hut the size of garden shed in the wilderness was also pretty interesting, especially when the temperature dropped to minus 25 at night. I think the best day was when we visited the weirdly modernist Doomsday Vault, the trippy SOUSY antenna field and then spending the rest of the night watching the night skies for the northern lights.
My design background has never informed my photography. I see them both as being shaped by the same idea of aesthetics, I guess. It’s all about the balance of simple elements. I think working in visual arts all my life has developed that style though.
We didn’t see a polar bear, just a massive set of footprints. How about you?
Same here. Only footprints. Footprints as wide as tree trunks.
I actually wasn’t that bothered about seeing a polar bear.
What’s next? Are you pleased with how the new Ladytron stuff’s getting received?
I’m planning another trip for next year. Maybe exploring the Chernobyl exclusion zone and the rest of Ukraine. Music stuff is doing very well. Fifth studio album out in September, followed by a North American tour. I’m looking forward to crossing the continent in a bus again!
You can buy Reuben’s Svalbard book here