Last July, photographer Reuben Wu and a crew of around 30 people hiked from the Peruvian city of Huaraz, nestled in the Cordillera Blanca region of the Andes, to the 16,000-foot-high Pastoruri glacier. The hike took around four hours and the crew arrived after sunset, finding the melting glacier lit only by a full moon.
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Wu has shot conceptual landscape photography in some of the world's most remote locations—East Java, Patagonia, Chile's Atacama Desert, Norway's Svalbard Archipelago—but this shoot, part of a mini-documentary about Wu's photography done as part of a Coors Light ad campaign, gave him the opportunity to highlight global warming by photographing a fast-receding glacier, one of the last in South America. "There were parts of the glacier where you could see evidence of pretty extreme breakdown and melting of the snow," Wu says. "Parts of the glacier no longer had the epic, jagged chunks of ice."
But rather than shoot the disintegrating parts of the glacier, Wu chose to highlight what majesty remained. He used a drone equipped with a blue LED light to illuminate the face of the glacier while leaving the rest of the landscape in darkness, a strategy he has used in several previous projects. "With a lot of landscape photography, it's pretty overwhelming when everything is illuminated," he explains. "I see this as a way of isolating elements by borrowing techniques from painters."
To prepare for the night shoot, Wu made a preparatory scouting trip to pick out camera locations, which he tagged with a GPS device so that the crew could find their way back in the dark. Once in place for the shoot, Wu sent his DJI Phantom drone into the air with a lightweight LED rig, lit up the glacier, and began shooting with a Fujifilm GFX 50S medium-format camera. Although there was also a camera on the drone, Wu used it only to help with navigation.
The resulting photographs reveal a forbidding, alien landscape bathed in a mysterious blue glow. It's a landscape that no longer exists, according to Wu, who has been monitoring the glacier's disintegration through the Instagram posts of tourists. "Huge chunks which you can see at the front of the glacier are no longer there," he says. "In 10 years I think it will probably be gone."
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