In her essay “Total Eclipse,” Annie Dillard described the moment of totality she experienced in 1978, “It looked as though we had all gathered on hilltops to pray for the world on its last day. It looked as though we had all crawled out of spaceships and were preparing to assault the valley below. It looked as though we were scattered on hilltops at dawn to sacrifice virgins, make rain, set stone stelae in a ring.” Or in other words, experiencing a total solar eclipse is akin to witnessing a paranormal phenomenon and about as difficult to capture in a single photograph.
Follow the likes and it is undeniable that we love landscapes. We may admit to ourselves that much of the landscape photography we scroll by portrays realities that never happened. Whether it’s feet out of the van, tents in precarious campsites, illicit drone shots, or simply photoshopped moments, we know not to trust everything we see online. There are, however, those rare images that change the way we look at the world, change our travel plans, and become part of our life story should we pursue them. The pilgrimage to a total solar eclipse is exactly that, because the image of a total solar eclipse on our pocket sized screen is no substitute for being fully immersed in the moon’s shadow as it races over the landscape at 2,000 miles an hour.
With merely a concept sketch, Reuben Wu inspired us to accompany him on his pilgrimage to the total eclipse over the Coquimbo region of Chile on July 2, 2019. The drawing summed up all the ingredients that made this eclipse so unique to photograph. Most notably, it would occur only a few degrees above the horizon, rather than high up in the sky, like the one he had witnessed in 2017. Second, its proximity to the mountainous coast of Chile meant we would be able to observe the totality from thousands of feet above the Pacific Ocean. With so much surface visible to us from a high vantage point, we’d be able to capture the moon’s shadow race across the landscape. It would be an irresistible moment for photographers to capture and we put all other plans aside, exhaustively planned our journey, and headed south.
Journey snapshots below by Matt Lief Anderson and Evan B. Dudley:
The totality commenced, wrecked us, and left us in an emotional aftermath. As the second dawn of the day came and totality passed, we went through a range of feelings about what we did or did not capture about our experience. Waves of awe and joy were mixed with regret and frustration. We had been drawn to the moment like moths to a flame with the unshakeable desire to capture the setting eclipse over the ocean’s vast horizon. Now, it may be beyond our lifetimes for same set of conditions, and we were unable to capture everything about it.
Our adventure was graciously supported by Lightroom, Mountain Hardwear, Lume Cube, and the new Shelter Label brand to be launched later this year. All of whom hope that our story inspires you to chase the next eclipse (Argentina, Dec. 14, 2020) or any adventure that challenges you to connect with this planet and people as part of your story.
The resulting imagery and experience was a reflection of our luck, commitment, improvisation, and preparation for totality. The journey a perfect testing ground for Reuben’s latest project, a modular camera bag concept that will be under the name Arca Lux. In partnership with Mark Falvai, the designer behind iconic bags from Chrome and Mission Workshop, Reuben was able to take a working prototype on this exceptional trip. Expect to see future developments posted here or jump to the about #arcalux for more background on the project.
Words: Evan B. Dudley
Words with Reuben Wu
What do you feel you can change about your collected audience’s perception of Earth through this eclipse? Or in other words, where would you like to lead people’s beliefs?
Reuben - We take our world for granted and this has lead to so many problems; serious problems which threaten our very existence. Astronauts have been known to say that when they see the Earth hanging in space, they develop a cognitive shift in awareness, a new global consciousness. I think experiencing a total solar eclipse has a similar effect to that, when the moon blots out the sun: you instantly perceive your entire existence in a more profound way. By sharing my photos of this event, I hope to show that experiencing this “overview effect,” or planetary awareness, is possible for everyone.
In planning the projects you are passionate about, how does your perception change about the place and of your own work in relation to it? Can you describe the typical arc in your journey from an idea to execution, and how you balance sticking to the original idea and adapting to the realities of execution?
Reuben - I’ve found that research and planning are crucial to the success of an idea. However, there is only so much you can do, and the rest is down to chance and serendipity. As a natural worrier, I find myself constantly recalibrating my perceptions of a place as I explore it, observing and expanding on ideas which only arise when I am actually there. Quite often the original concept is taken to a new level by a chance encounter or an experiment. It’s all about maintaining an imaginative and open state of mind.
What do you find to be your greatest limiting factor in achieving your vision?
Reuben - In my line of work, the process of planning, exploring, photographing and moving through the environment is nuanced, complex, and is never the same for each trip. I often find myself working with different technologies, each requiring their own patterns of operation, and I’ve found that the way I am able to carry, access and protect my equipment affects the success of working creatively in the field.