Empty buildings usually have a kind of strange character about them. Photographer Reuben Wu is all so aware of this, and he just can’t seem to get enough of abandoned places as a subject. Wu has travelled quite extensively to photograph such barren locations. The places he has been to include Nazi coastal forts built along Western Europe and Scandinavia, observatories in Chile’s Atacama Desert, in addition to the more recent arctic archipelago of Svalbard.
In 1920, Svalbard was ceded to Norway. It can be found between the Barents and Greenland seas approximately 800 plus miles from the North Pole. It is a harsh environment, with icy temperatures that go from -42.8 and 3.2 °F. It is so cold here that its dead are so well preserved, since bodies hardly decompose. Scientists in the late 1990s were even able to recover genetic matter from the virus responsible for the dreaded Spanish influenza epidemic that killed 40 million people in 1918. There is also the reality of being attacked by a polar bear making every trip on foot a life threatening activity.
Svalbard is situated quite a distance off the coast of Norway and the place is largely uninhabited, with remnants of transient settlers from many decades, if not centuries ago. Only a few hundred scientists residing in the main permanent settlement of Longyearbyen can be found here.
Being a member of a band called ‘Ladytron’ as well as a DJ, Wu gets to see the world and many unique places. He has a special penchant for desolate places that humans hardly inhabit.
Wu recently shared these thoughts in an interview.
“On my travels I’ve been spoilt by the amount of stuff I’ve been able to see […] And over the years I have become more and more attracted to the dark and hidden things which most people have forgotten about, yet have their own aura of history and identity.”
While in Svalbard Wu went to the Seed Vault, a place where scientists have amassed 4.5 million seed samples that are being kept for purposes of repopulating plant species in case they get wiped out. In addition to that he also went to Pyramiden, an old abandoned Soviet village that has been unoccupied for over a decade. Time is no enemy in Svalbard, since structures are believed to last up to 500 years because of the bitter cold.
“Humans don’t belong there and they can’t survive without huge effort,” says WU. “I found that I had stopped thinking about life at home and had become completely absorbed by the environment – a bizarre sensory deprivation where I became unable to judge the existence of anything apart from the shape of my travelling companion in front of me.”
See the desolate and abandoned Svalbard as pictured by Wu here.