How this photographer makes sublime landscapes of the American West

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Reuben WuCNN — 

The first time Reuben Wu saw the warm sandstone hues and vast, open skies of the American West, he was watching the landscapes pass him by from the window of a tour bus.

The British visual artist, now based in Chicago, has become known for his sublime imagery of remote landscapes using drone lighting, enhancing craggy peaks with halos, or writing glyphs in the sky like signals from a supernatural entity. But for a long time, art was just a passion project while he focused on a music career as one of the four members of the synth-pop band Ladytron.

“(Photography) started as an all-consuming hobby,” he explained in a phone interview. But when Ladytron took a break in 2011 after five studio albums (they released a self-titled sixth album in 2019, and the seventh, “Time’s Arrow,” this month), he began a new career from scratch. “While the others did their own solo projects, making their own music and releasing their own albums, this was my solo project.”

Wu’s imagery takes a classic photographer’s combination — light and landscape — and marries the two in transformative ways. He often begins with dusky evening light or the ink-black shadows of night, then strategically illuminates portions of the scene with custom-built consumer drones. In one image, a bright horizontal line hangs over a glacier in the Peruvian Andes, revealing the brilliance of the ice against a dark sky. In a different motion piece, Wu simulated an electrical storm in Goblin Valley, Utah, but with perfectly straight strikes of light rather than the jagged bursts of lightning.

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The artist’s 2018 photo book “Lux Noctis” is in the collections of the Guggenheim and Museum of Modern Art, in New York, and he has shot commercial work for Apple, Audi and Google as well as the DJ and music producer Zedd. Last summer, Wu revealed a colossal project for National Geographic: a cover story and timelapse multimedia piece about Stonehenge, which featured the enigmatic monument lit by his custom drones. In November, one of his NFTs, a 4K video loop titled “An Irresistible Force,” outperformed its high estimate by over 25% during an auction at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, selling at 441,000 HKD (about $56,500).

“I couldn’t have dreamed of where I am now,” Wu said. “I just wanted to be able to make a living from doing art and from doing photography.”

Alien inspiration

Wu has always been drawn to wild, remote places where he could find solitude. His parents immigrated from Hong Kong to the UK before he was born, and he grew up an introverted child in Liverpool, he said, who didn’t quite click with school. He was fascinated with science-fiction films that mix the alien with the everyday, such as Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” which featured Wyoming’s Devils Tower as a site for extraterrestrial contact. (Unfamiliar with American topography, he initially thought the butte, a national monument, was a fictional geological entity, he explained with a laugh).

The film’s visuals of remote desert scenes mixed with eerie lights have been a formative inspiration in his own work. “(It’s) cemented into my brain, the idea of these seemingly impossible lights moving through the sky, kind of like search lights on very ordinary (American) landscapes,” he said.

Reuben Wu has traveled extensively to remote places in the US and beyond for his work. Here, he traveled to Bolivia's salt flats, using the vast, empty land as his canvas.

Reuben Wu has traveled extensively to remote places in the US and beyond for his work. Here, he traveled to Bolivia’s salt flats, using the vast, empty land as his canvas.Reuben Wu

He embarked on his first cross-country photography trip across the US in 2013, around a decade after getting a taste on the road with Ladytron. The resulting series featured vivid depictions of the Grand Canyon and South Dakota Badlands, as well as a time-lapse image of Devils Tower at night among star trails.

Two years later, Wu discovered the effect that drone lighting could have on the natural world while working on an outdoor automotive shoot.

“I flew the drone up above some cliffs, and I was absolutely fascinated by the effect it had on the actual landscape,” he explained. It made the cliffs glow, reaching areas that were otherwise impossible to light artificially.

Wu's earliest inspiration came from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," inspiring his interest in the American West.

Wu’s earliest inspiration came from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” inspiring his interest in the American West.Reuben Wu

Wu rigs lights on drones to suit his needs on any given shoot or project. The first iteration, he said, which he used when the technology was still nascent, was a “massive” eight-rotor drone outfitted with homemade lights that only had about eight minutes of flight time. The next used a 3D-printed bracket with an LED hot light, but still only gave him an additional two minutes in the air. The tech he uses now gives him a bit more breathing room, with a half hour to fly out, capture images and return to him, but he’s had to learn to work within the bounds of each set-up.

“I’m a lot less anxious now, because I’ve crashed a number of drones,” he said. “And in the end, they’re just tools.”

Experimental series

After developing series of still images such as “Lux Noctis” and “Aeroglyphs,” which experiment with ghostly lighting and geometric shapes in the skies, Wu found himself wanting to incorporate motion and sound into his work because of his own background in music. He began creating 15-second video loops from his images, showing light beams forming patterns or the moon arcing across the sky, to the beats of atmospheric electronic music that he produced.

“These (works) were very much experimental and had no end goal — they were just things that I did for love out of love,” he said. “I couldn’t license them, I couldn’t print them… and so they were just there, stacking likes on my Instagram.”

Wu has been commissioned to shoot in various locations, including the New Mexico badlands. This image came from a 20-hour shoot.

Wu has been commissioned to shoot in various locations, including the New Mexico badlands. This image came from a 20-hour shoot.Reuben Wu

But in January 2021, Wu found a way to make them a more substantial part of his career when he was introduced to NFT art. He minted his first “non-fungible token” on the marketplace Foundation two months later — an “aeroglyph” of bright lines forming a rectangle above a beachside cliff. It sold for 30 ETH ($45,000), a portion of which he donated to the National Parks Conservation Association and the AAPI Community Fund. Later that year, the web3 arts organization Obscura commissioned him to produce a new set of images titled “Aeroglyph Variations,” which took him into the New Mexico badlands for a 20-hour shoot that resulted in 55 images of the same setting, each with different lighting conditions and patterns. Wu has also experimented with presenting the work in different ways, from animations, to AR experiences, to projection mapping moving images onto physical prints.

“It’s very much a hybrid medium, and so I’d like to expand that horizon even more, and think about the end goal for my work,” he said. “Am I creating a nice piece of art for people to look at and appreciate, or am I creating an experience for people to share?”

Wu is leaning towards the latter as he continues to experiment with the form his work takes, but no matter the medium, his vision of and approach to the natural world remains consistent.

“A lot of people always say that my work is otherworldly — that is the first word that people think of https://darsalas.com/ when they think about my work,” he said. “But I’m not trying to create an alien-looking image; I’m trying to show that this is our planet. And there are so many new ways that are available to see it that can renew your perspective.”

This photo of male intimacy in 1980s India was more subversive than it seems

06 sunil gupta exiles india gate

Courtesy Sunil Gupta/Vadehra Art Gallery

Editor’s Note: In Snap, we look at the power of a single photograph, chronicling stories about how both modern and historical images have been made.CNN — 

To passersby, the sight of two men embracing besides New Delhi’s India Gate in 1986 might have seemed unremarkable. In a city where public displays of platonic male affection are relatively commonplace, it was photographer Sunil Gupta who attracted more attention at the time.

“Men holding hands or lying in each other’s laps is not an issue — it looks very romantic from (the outside), but they’re usually just hanging out,” he said in a video interview from the UK, before recalling: “I was creating more interest than them, because I was standing there with a tripod and a camera, so everybody was focused on me.”

Onlookers may not have realized, but Gupta was creating a subtly subversive image in what he has described as the “repressive atmosphere” of 1980s India. At a time when homosexuality was more taboo in the country than it is today — and with consensual gay sex then criminalized as an “unnatural offense” — the photographer had found his subjects via the informal networks constituting Delhi’s gay scene. The pair in question had chosen the war monument’s gardens for their photo shoot due to its reputation as a cruising spot.

Photo of a man posing with a Coca-Cola bottle in 1981 symbolized a cultural shift in China

Having lived in New Delhi until his mid-teens, London-based Gupta knew this from personal experience. “I passed that place on my way to school every day for 11 years,” he said. “You just had to hop off the bus and get laid on your way home. It was very easy.”

The image forms part of the photographer’s series “Exiles,” which was first exhibited in the UK in 1987 but is this week showing at the India Art Fair in New Delhi. Primarily shot outdoors around India’s capital, it captures gay men sat on benches or in public places popular among those looking for casual sexual partners, their faces often out of shot or turned away from the camera.

Concerned about “outing” his subjects, Gupta treated them as collaborators in what he called a “constructed documentary” approach. After shooting his images and developing the film in London, he returned to Delhi with printed contact sheets to ensure the men were comfortable with the pictures he selected for his show.

“There was quite a bit of horsing around in the pictures,” he said of the India Gate shoot. “And there were other photos that were (more suggestive)… So I picked a somewhat tamer one to put in the series.”

The other ethical challenge, he recalled, was communicating to the duo how the images would be used — and the art of photography itself.

“It wasn’t for publication, and the only way they saw pictures was in a magazine, so it took some explaining,” he said, adding: “Then I tried to explain the process.”

Photography for many at the time, Gupta observed, was still “a very mysterious thing that only a few people did in a darkroom.”

A portrait of one of the few young, female truckers in France

For ‘the canon’

Now among India’s most celebrated photographic artists, Gupta often addressed LGBTQ experiences in his explorations of race, immigration and identity. While studying in the US in the mid-1970s he produced a now-celebrated series of photos from New York’s Christopher Street that captured the city’s gay scene in the years between the Stonewall Riots and onset of the AIDS epidemic.

Although “Exiles” presented a rare portrait of gay life outside the West, Gupta’s intended audience was always back in London. Homophobia was rife in 1980s Britain, and the photographer said he faced “a lot of hostility” at art school for making work relating to his sexuality.

“I couldn’t make gay work, and I couldn’t make gay work about India, especially,” he said. “There was none in the library for reference. So, I thought, ‘I’m making it my mission to make some. Not for India, but for this canon — we need to have gay Indian guys in our library, in our art schools, over here.’”

New York’s Museum of Modern Art has since acquired several of the pictures for its permanent collection, signifying the series’ place in contemporary photography. But it was not an instant success.

“It didn’t have any impact when it was first shown,” Gupta said of its debut. “I think it was too early.”

By the 1990s, however, interest in Gupta’s work was growing, as art made by, and about, gay people of color became increasingly visible in the West. The fact that “Exiles” is now showing in India, where he said it is positively received, is testament to changes on the subcontinent, too.

A shot from the "Exiles" series.

A shot from the “Exiles” series.Courtesy Sunil Gupta/Vadehra Art Gallery

Although the country’s LGBTQ communities still face significant social stigma, gay sex was decriminalized in 2018 and the arrival of apps like Grindr have been transformative, Gupta said. (“Those sorts of chance meetings behind the bush are not happening — or maybe happening less,” he added). This modern context and the power of hindsight have helped paint the photos in a new light.

Open-source encyclopedia puts 10,000 years of Indian art history in one place

“I think it has become historical enough that people are curious about what gay life was like before Grindr and the internet,” Gupta said. “People think it was all doom and gloom, and people jumping off buildings. They don’t seem to appreciate that we also managed to have some kind of a life back then.”

This is a message reflected in the https://surinamecop.com/ photographer’s carefree India Gate shoot, which he recounts as a relaxed day of fun and abundant sunlight.

“It just seemed very pleasurable. It was a nice day out, and I got to hang out with these guys who were having a good time and having a laugh.”

“Exiles” is showing via Vadehra Art Gallery at India Art Fair, which runs February 9-12 in New Delhi, India. A book of outtakes from the series, published by Aperture, is available now.

Photo of a man posing with a Coca-Cola bottle in 1981 symbolized a cultural shift in China

liu heung shing coca cola forbidden city

Liu Heung Shing

Editor’s Note: In Snap, we look at the power of a single photograph, chronicling stories about how both modern and historical images have been made.Hong KongCNN — 

A young man stands grinning in Beijing’s Forbidden City. It’s the dead of winter, and one of his hands is buried deep into the pockets of his long overcoat to protect it from the chill. The other grasps the unmistakable contours of a glass Coca-Cola bottle.

Today, Coke is the world’s most famous soft drink and can be found just about anywhere. But back in 1981, when the image was shot by Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer Liu Heung Shing, it was only just getting into the hands of ordinary Chinese people.

Liu, who was in his late 20s when he began working for Time magazine in Beijing, felt the country was on the cusp of a great cultural shift following the death of Mao Zedong in 1976.

“The changes (at first) were subtle, and unless you lived there, you wouldn’t have noticed,” he recalled during an interview at his home in Hong Kong.

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He had earlier photographed people grieving for Mao along the banks of the Pearl River in Guangzhou. It was here that he was struck by how differently people carried themselves compared to what he had seen in late-1950s China, where he grew up during the disastrous Great Leap Forward campaign — a series of failed industrialization policies — before moving back to Hong Kong as a child.

Under Mao, the country went on to suffer from widespread famine and poverty, and the tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution. But in the aftermath of the Chinese leader’s death, Liu said, “suddenly, people’s steps looked a little bit lighter, they dropped their shoulders and their faces looked more relaxed.”

It would prove to be a relatively liberal period in Chinese history — politically, economically and in terms of everyday life, which Liu captured in candid shots. One photo from the time showed a plastic surgeon and his client after a cosmetic procedure. Another depicted people gathering at a “Democracy Wall” in Beijing, where they wrote now-unthinkable criticisms of the government.

One of Liu’s most iconic images was captured on his way into the Time bureau after he had the strange feeling that something was “missing.” He turned his car around and, sure enough, a large portrait of Mao that had once hung prominently on a building had been freshly taken down. He quickly shot images of workers gathered around the depiction of the late Chairman, with some of their scaffolding visible in the frame.

This was China “moving out of the shadow of Mao,” he said.

‘It tastes so-so’

In December 1978, Coca-Cola became the first foreign enterprise permitted to enter the mainland Chinese market since the communist revolution. That same month, Beijing and Washington announced the normalization of Sino-American relations and Deng Xiaoping kick-started China’s transformative economic reforms with his “Open Door” policy. (Coca-Cola was first introduced to China in the 1920s but had been forced to leave in 1949, along with other foreign companies, by a government that regarded it as bourgeois).

Liu had photographed the opening of a joint-venture bottling plant in Beijing, capturing Coke chairman Roberto Goizueta and Chinese trade officials drinking Coca Cola and holding bottles aloft to cries of “ganbei” (cheers). He then thought to himself, “Now where do I find a (regular) Chinese person enjoying this (drink)?”

He headed to the Forbidden City, with its heavy flow of tourists, and soon found a man named Zhang Wei purchasing a Coke from a small stand.

“I remember he made a comment when he drank this syrupy Coke: ‘It tastes so-so’” said Liu, who ended up taking a few shots with one of the imperial palace’s picturesque pavilions in the background.

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The response to Coke itself may have been underwhelming, but the snap perfectly captured the curiosity and openness many Chinese people felt at the time.

“As a photographer, I of course realized the significance. That this man, dressed in a ubiquitous PLA (People’s Liberation Army) coat, was one of the very first people to taste it,” he said, adding: “But I didn’t realize it would become part of the Chinese collective memory.”

The image would be widely published and displayed in the following years, and he later became friends with Zhang. In 1983, it appeared in Liu’s photography book “China after Mao,” a collection of images taken between 1976 and 1982. More recently he included it in his book “Liu Heung Shing: A Life in a Sea of Red.”

Striking photos document the collapse — and evolution — of 20th century communism

The photographer would go on to document other periods and profound events in the country’s modern history, including the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. And just like those pictures of young student activists calling for democracy, Liu’s Coca-Cola photograph feels part of another era altogether.

With its apparent embrace of the new and the foreign — ideas encapsulated in that most American of drinks — the image stands in stark contrast to today’s China, where relations with the US are at an all-time low. Xi Jinping’s nationalist agenda has generated increasingly xenophobic attitudes towards the West.

“I realized that the story I did in the last quarter of the 20th century (would) continue to carry relevance into the 21st century,” Liu said.

“Especially with the story of China, I never doubt that these photographs are in the Chinese people’s collective memory.

“Even though this memory keeps being re-edited… the good thing about a photograph, is you cannot re-edit it. It becomes an image seared in people’s minds.”

Top image: A 1981 photograph of a man with a Coke bottle in Beijing’s Forbidden City, shot by Liu Heung Shing.

A version of this story https://clasicccop.com appeared in CNN’s Meanwhile in China newsletter, a three-times-a-week update exploring what you need to know about the country’s rise and how it impacts the world. Sign up here.

Life in limbo: Photographer documents ‘Kafka-esque’ migrant experience

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Felipe Romero Beltrán’s photos depict the experiences of nine young Moroccan migrants living at a government facility in Spain.Felipe Romero Beltrán/Courtesy Loose JointsCNN — 

Photographer Felipe Romero Beltrán’s depiction of a migrant facility in Spain oozes with the boredom and malaise of life in legal limbo. His young subjects are seen smoking cigarettes, lifting weights and trimming one another’s hair. Other images show them hanging out in a grubby yard or lying around on mattresses.

The photos were shot with the help of nine young Moroccans whom Beltrán befriended in Seville, capital of the southern region of Andalucía. Published in his new book “Dialect,” the pictures were initially intended to be personal, not political. But they ultimately spoke to what Beltrán called a “Kafka-esque” system in which the men waited for years to learn whether their residency applications would be approved.

“At the beginning, it was just about this group of guys,” Beltrán said on a video call from Madrid. “But of course, I realized that I was photographing these really specific political bodies, or political subjects in this bureaucracy.”

The men did not know one another before arriving in Spain, though by "spending all day together ... they became really close friends," said Beltrán.<br />
"Dialect," published by Loose Joints, is available now.
In his new book new book "Dialect," Felipe Romero Beltrán depicts lives of nine Moroccan men living in a Spanish immigration facility. Scroll through the gallery to see more of the images.

In his new book new book “Dialect,” Felipe Romero Beltrán depicts lives of nine Moroccan men living in a Spanish immigration facility. Scroll through the gallery to see more of the images.Felipe Romero Beltrán/Courtesy Loose Joints

Many of the photos speak to the boredom faced by the men, who were undocumented and unable to legally work in Spain.
Part documentary and part performance, the book features staged re-enactments of moments from the men's difficult journeys to Spain.
Beltrán's subjects recreate the moment one of them landed on Spain's coast.
"The system is built to avoid you, or to deny you access to (it)," Beltrán said.
Many of the photos show the men killing time. According to Beltrán, his subjects were required to stay in Spain for three continuous years before applying for residency.
Two of the men carry a third on their shoulders to re-enact the moment he fainted during a day-long walk on his way to Seville, in southern Spain.
The men are pictured working out and giving one another hair cuts. Like many young men their age, they were "really aware of their image," Beltrán said.
Many of the photos focus on conditions at the government-run facility, from peeling walls to basic food supplies.
While living at the government-run facility, the men took Spanish lessons and joined workshops to help them adapt to life in Spain — some of which were run by Beltrán.
Beltrán often turned his lens on conditions inside the facility in which the nine migrants lived.
The men did not know one another before arriving in Spain, though by "spending all day together ... they became really close friends," said Beltrán.<br />
"Dialect," published by Loose Joints, is available now.
In his new book new book "Dialect," Felipe Romero Beltrán depicts lives of nine Moroccan men living in a Spanish immigration facility. Scroll through the gallery to see more of the images.
Many of the photos speak to the boredom faced by the men, who were undocumented and unable to legally work in Spain.
Photos show the lives of young migrants in Spain

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Last year, nearly 30,000 migrants arrived in Spain by sea, down from a record of over 58,000 in 2018, according to UNHCR data. Of these, most arrived in the Canary Islands or Andalucía, a region separated from Morocco by the Strait of Gibraltar, a stretch of water just 13 kilometers (eight miles) at its narrowest.

The nine men, who didn’t previously know one another, were among those to arrive by boat during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic in search of a better life. Recounting his journey with an essay in “Dialect,” one of Beltrán’s subjects, Youssef Elhafidi, recalls another terrified teen migrant being forced by smugglers to pilot their boat.

“He did not want to drive, the fear was paralyzing him, they took out a knife and put it on his neck, threatening him to start the engines,” Elhafidi wrote. “The boy started the machine between trembling and crying and we headed north.”

Killing time

According to Beltrán, https://masurip.org his nine subjects were required to stay in Spain for three continuous years before applying for residency. Undocumented and without the right to work during this time, they were dependent on the state for food and housing.

While living at the government-run facility, the men took Spanish lessons and joined workshops to help them adapt to life in Spain — some of which were run by Beltrán.

Overcoming an initial language barrier, the photographer began working with the group to produce images and videos. As well as candid portraits, the pictures focus on conditions at the facility, from peeling walls to basic food supplies.

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Beltrán often turned his lens on conditions inside the facility in which the nine migrants lived.Felipe Romero Beltrán/Courtesy Loose Joints

Many of the images were, however, staged. As Beltrán looked for different ways to engage with his subjects, he asked them to re-enact moments from their respective migration journeys. In one, a subject lies motionless on blue gym mats, just as he had upon landing on Spain’s coast. Another shows two of the men carrying a third on their shoulders to recreate the moment he fainted during a day-long walk to Seville from a small town to its south.

The resulting book is thus part documentary and part performance, with Beltrán toeing the line between mentor and collaborator, photographer and choreographer. More than just an artistic decision, staging photos directly responded to the tedium of the migrants’ abundant free time.

“There was an activity around taking the images — it was something during the day that (could get them) excited. And it was fun,” Beltrán recalled. “Everyone was laughing, and they just make jokes each other during the sessions.”

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Lost in translation

When Beltrán began delivering workshops at the facility in 2020, he was all too familiar with the system his subjects were trapped in. A few years earlier, he had relocated to Spain from his native Colombia, and — even as a college-educated Spanish speaker — also struggled to navigate the complex immigration processes.

To illustrate the challenge facing his francophone subjects, his project included a video titled “Recital” in which they attempted to read the first four pages of the Spanish immigration law that would determine their futures. “They weren’t understanding a word,” he recalled, noting that, although lawyers were assigned to act on the men’s behalf, the language barrier and dense legalese removed their agency.

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Beltrán’s subjects recreate the moment one of them landed on Spain’s coast.Felipe Romero Beltrán/Courtesy Loose Joints

The opening pages of “Dialect” — whose title alludes to these very linguistical challenges — are dedicated to stills from the video. Pictures of the men struggling to comprehend the legislation are overlaid with technical terminology (“Right to effective judicial protection” reads the text on one frame; another says, “Authorizations for the purpose of carrying out profit-making activities”).

“These legal procedures are really, really complicated, even for native speakers,” said Beltrán, who is now completing a PhD program in photography in Madrid. “It becomes almost like translation work — translating these laws and bureaucracies into (something understandable to) normal people like us.”

The result, he said, is an inevitable sense of helplessness.

“You can’t talk with anyone,” Beltrán added. “You can’t ask, ‘Who is the law?’ or ‘Who is the state?’ You don’t have anyone to approach. You don’t have any tools to make a living… The system is built to avoid you, or to deny you access to (it).”

Describing the group as “just young people trying to figure out what to do with life,” the photographer hopes his project can humanize migrants’ experiences in a world increasingly desensitized to images of their suffering.

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The images depict the men smoking cigarettes, lifting weights and trimming one another’s hair.Felipe Romero Beltrán/Courtesy Loose Joints

Since Beltrán completed his project, most of his subjects have completed their three-year wait and now formally reside in Spain, he says. He remains in touch with some — including Elhafidi, who he says works in a restaurant and has accompanied him at promotional events for the book’s launch.

In the conclusion of his essay, Elhafidi recalled how he felt when he secured his residency, writing: “It took me three years of searching and putting courage to life, until finally the moment came, after being cold, scared, hungry and the most difficult thing, my mother’s tears… I got it,” he wrote.

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“I got the papers. Now after getting it I have another look at life, I finally feel that I have the opportunity to be whoever I want to be.”

“They’re building their lives,” Beltrán said of those, including Elhafidi, who have secured residency. “Fortunately, they now can go back to Morocco to visit and see their families.”

Dialect,” published by Loose Joints, is available now.

How this dream-like photo challenges notions of the male gaze

"The Smothering Dream," by Chinese photographer Yushi Li.

The Smothering Dream,” by Chinese photographer Yushi Li.Yushi Li

Editor’s Note: In Snap, we look at the power of a single photograph, chronicling stories about how both modern and historical images have been made.CNN — 

A group of men lie at the foot of a sofa, their naked bodies peeking out through a carpet of rose petals. Some look toward the photograph’s protagonist, an Asian woman in a lime green dress laying across the cushioned loveseat. Others gaze away, seemingly indifferent, as if caught in some sort of hazy spell.

Despite Chinese photographer Yushi Li’s gentle staging, her title for the photograph, “The Smothering Dream,” suggests something more sinister is at play. Referencing Dutch painter Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s 1888 work “The Roses of Heliogabalus,” in which a Roman emperor watches on as unsuspecting banquet guests slowly suffocate in flowers, Li’s modern take — shot on a set awash with pastel colors and delicate furniture — is equally deceptive at first glance.

Li, is not only the photographer, but also the muse at the center of the image. “I made this very pink and kitsch dream,” she said, describing the London living room set in a phone interview. “But underneath it, there is, like, some kind of violence. It’s a fantasy of love and eroticism… smothering these men I desire.”

Shot in 2022, “The Smothering Dream” was recently on show at Photofairs Shanghai as part of a group exhibition called “A Quiet Gaze.” It was a fitting title to showcase the work of an artist for whom an examination of the male and female gazes has been a recurring theme.

"After the Dream," is part of an ongoing series "Paintings, Dreams and Love.”

After the Dream,” is part of an ongoing series “Paintings, Dreams and Love.”Yushi Li

Li’s wider portfolio of subversive images include softly-lit nude portraits of strangers she scouted through a dating app (a series titled “My Tinder Boys”). Stripped of their clothes and therefore their character, she said, the men lounge around their homes doing banal tasks: one scoops out of a fresh watermelon, while another casually balances a plate of spaghetti over his private parts.

The series is partly a response to erotic images objectifying women that are historically ubiquitous in art, advertisements and photography. Although a canon of male nudes does exist, it largely comprises images shot by gay male photographers. When Li began the series in 2017, she noticed a lack of images depicting naked men as objects of desire from a woman’s perspective.

After some mistook her work as being shot by a male photographer, she began inserting herself into the photos — fully clothed alongside naked counterparts, and often the only person looking directly at the camera.

Photo of a man posing with a Coca-Cola bottle in 1981 symbolized a cultural shift in China

“Instead of being a passive, ‘looked-at’ thing, I want to be the one who is in control, who is creating the story, who is expressing my fantasy,” said Li.

Her images have also pushed back against the longstanding fetishization of Asian women, often by Western men, something Li said she has experienced first-hand: “I’m a small person, and come across as quiet, so I kind of fit the stereotype.” Li, who was born in China’s Hunan province and now lives in the UK.

She said she feels flattered when women reach out to her online to say they feel empowered by her photographs. “As a woman, especially as an Asian or Chinese woman, you (should be able to) feel that you can also express your erotic desire.”

Who’s in power?

Li has been fascinated with how the idea of the gaze has, today, become “less binary.” She has also been examining and playing with the way classical paintings depict power dynamics, portrayals of desire and representations of the body.

She brings these ideas into “Paintings, Dreams and Love,” an ongoing project to which “The Smothering Dream” belongs. (A second photo from the same shoot, entitled “After the Dream,” hints at what has just taken place, with satin cushions and wilted petals strewn about the scene).

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Li fixes her eyes on the viewer in her 2019 interpretation of Henry Fuseli’s 1781 painting, “The Nightmare.”Yushi Li

Other sources of inspiration include Swiss painter Henry Fuseli’s 1781 “The Nightmare,” showing an incubus crouching menacingly atop a sleeping woman, and “The Death of Actaeon,” Renaissance painter Titian’s 16th-century oil painting of the Romans’ goddess of the hunt, Diana, https://sayurkana.com transforming the Theban hero into a stag that is then killed by his own hounds.

In Li’s reinterpretations, she is in full control. In the former, she wears a tight, red turtleneck as she casually sits on an unsuspecting male figure, thwarting the idea of seduction. In the latter, she strikes a calm, calculated pose, pointing a bow and arrow at a naked man in a window.

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But control, Li says, is subjective in images where multiple gazes can co-exist. “Some of these men (in the photographs) also look at me, and the viewer also looks at all of us,” she said. The internet age, she added, has only further complicated matters. “Now you can look at so many things like instantly, everywhere, or wherever, whenever you want… it’s something very different, it’s not (just) a physical thing, it’s a digital thing.

“There’s also the gaze from the algorithm, and the gaze from the screen that reflects yourself when you look at it… the internet (means) we’re subjected to the gaze more, in a way.”

World’s ‘most sought-after’ whisky sells for $2.7 million

Jonny Fowle, Sotheby's Global Head of Spirits, unveils a bottle of The Macallan 1926, the world's most expensive whisky estimated at £750,000- 1,200,000, at Sotheby's on October 19, 2023 in London, England. After being aged in sherry casks for six decades, just 40 bottles of The Mcallan 1926 were bottled in 1986. The Mcallan Adami 1926 is one of 12 bottles in the series with a label designed by Italian artist Valerio Adami and is the first bottle to have undergone reconditioning by The Mcallan Distillery ahead of being presented at auction at Sotheby's in London on November 18, 2023.

Jonny Fowle, Sotheby’s global head of whisky, unveils a bottle of The Macallan 1926, the world’s most expensive whisky on October 19, 2023 in London, England.Tristan Fewings/Getty ImagesLondonCNN — 

For those who appreciate the finer tipples in life, a bottle of the world’s “most sought-after Scotch whisky” sold for more than £2.1 million ($2.7 million) Saturday at Sotheby’s in London.

The Macallan 1926 is one of just 40 bottles drawn after ageing in sherry casks for 60 years, making it the oldest Macallan vintage ever produced, according to the auction house.

Sotheby’s had expected it to raise between £750,000 and £1.2 million ($934,274 and $1.4 million), but were in for a shock when the prized bottle fetched a whooping £2,187,500 ($2,724,967), making it a “new record for any bottle of spirit or wine sold at auction,” the auction house told AFP news agency.

A bottle of The Macallan 1926, the world's most expensive whisky estimated at £750,000- 1,200,000, is unveiled at Sotheby's on October 19, 2023 in London, England. After being aged in sherry casks for six decades, just 40 bottles of The Mcallan 1926 were bottled in 1986. The Mcallan Adami 1926 is one of 12 bottles in the series with a label designed by Italian artist Valerio Adami and is the first bottle to have undergone reconditioning by The Mcallan Distillery ahead of being presented at auction at Sotheby's in London on November 18, 2023.

This bottle of The Macallan 1926, is one of 12 that were labelled by Italian painter Valerio Adami.Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

Ahead of the sale, Sotheby’s head of whisky Jonny Fowle told AFP that he had tried a small sample.

“I tasted a tiny drop – a tiny drop – of this. It’s very rich, it’s got a lot of dried fruit as you would expect, a lot of spice, a lot of wood,” he said, calling it an “incredible” whisky that should not be taken lightly.

Of the 40 bottles filled in 1986, none were made available for purchase, with some instead being offered to The Macallan’s top clients, a luxury that adds to its appeal, as evidenced in previous sales of the bottles, its description on Sotheby’s website added.

In 2019, Sotheby’s sold a bottle of The Macallan 1926 adorned with one of 14 Fine and Rare labels, for £1.5 million ($1.9 million), at the time making it the most expensive bottle of wine or spirit ever auctioned.

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Saturday’s sale was one of 12 bottles covered with a label designed by Italian painter Valerio Adami, a bottle of which is also believed to have been destroyed during the 2011 Japanese earthquake. This bottle is also the first of The Macallan 1926 bottles to have undergone reconditioning, carried out by The Macallan Distillery in Scotland before the auction.

A further 12 were labelled by pop https://kolechai.com artist Sir Peter Blake, while the remaining two were released unlabelled. Of the unlabelled, one was hand painted by Irish artist Michael Dillon, and became the first bottle of whiskey to surpass £1 million ($1.2 million) when it sold in 2018 for £1.2 million ($1.5 million), the auction house said on its website.

One of Napoleon’s trademark hats sells for record $2.1 million

Raphael Pitchal, left, and Jean Christophe Chataignier of Osenat's auction house remove the protection of one of the signature broad, black hats that Napoléon wore when he ruled 19th century France and waged war in Europe at Osenat's auction house in Fontainebleau, south of Paris, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023. The hat is tipped to fetch more than half a million euros (dollars) at the auction Sunday of Napoleonic memorabilia patiently collected by a French industrialist. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

The broad black hat that Napoleon wore when he ruled 19th-century France and waged war in Europe fetched more than $2 million at auction on Sunday.Christophe Ena/APCNN — 

One of Napoleon Bonaparte’s famous black hats sold for more than $2 million at an auction in France on Sunday.

The €1.932 million ($2.1 million) sale set a record for Napoleon’s trademark two-cornered military dress hats. The French emperor is said to have had about 120 versions of the bicorn headpiece.

According to the Osenat auction house in Fontainebleau, which sold the hat, only about 16 remain, with most now housed in museums because of their historical significance.

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The hat was part of a collection belonging to French industrialist Jean Louis Noisiez that went on sale on Sunday.

It is made of black beaver felt and is decorated with a tricolor cockade, or military rosette.

According to its online listing, the hat – which sold for more than double its original estimate – was made by a furrier at the emperor’s palace.

Napoleon is believed to have worn this particular hat in the middle of his reign. He fixed the cockade to his hat in 1815, on his return to France from his exile in Elba.

“People recognized his hat everywhere,” auctioneer Jean-Pierre Osenat said ahead of the sale. He told Reuters that Napoleon always wore the hat with the corners aligned with his shoulders, while most people at the time wore it with the corners front to back.

When they see it in the battlefields they knew Napoleon was there and when he’s in private he always had it on his head or he had it in his hand or sometimes he threw it on the ground. That was the image, the symbol of the emperor,” he said.

In 2018, another version of the hat sold for more than $400,000 at an auction in Lyon, France. According to the De Baecque auction house, which arranged that sale, Napoleon constantly had 12 hats in service, each of which had a three-year life span.

Jonny Fowle, Sotheby's Global Head of Spirits, unveils a bottle of The Macallan 1926, the world's most expensive whisky estimated at £750,000- 1,200,000, at Sotheby's on October 19, 2023 in London, England. After being aged in sherry casks for six decades, just 40 bottles of The Mcallan 1926 were bottled in 1986. The Mcallan Adami 1926 is one of 12 bottles in the series with a label designed by Italian artist Valerio Adami and is the first bottle to have undergone reconditioning by The Mcallan Distillery ahead of being presented at auction at Sotheby's in London on November 18, 2023.

World’s ‘most sought-after’ whisky sells for $2.7 million

Napoleon declared himself emperor of France in 1804 and made a lasting impact on the country as a military leader and ruler, waging wars against many of the European powers of the time.

After his defeat by the British at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, he abdicated for the second time and was exiled to the remote island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic, where he died in 1821.

Other items featured in https://jusnarte.com the auction included Napoleon’s vanity set – complete with razor and toothbrush – and a handkerchief he used on St. Helena while he was sick.

The sale comes as Ridley Scott’s epic movie, starring Joaquin Phoenix as the diminutive emperor, hits the big screen this week.

Animatronic model of E.T.’s head expected to fetch up to $1 million at auction

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 The Alien

Steven Spielberg’s classic 1982 movie was nominated for nine Oscars.FlixPix/AlamyCNN — 

An animatronic head of E.T., the beloved alien left behind on Earth in Steven Spielberg’s classic movie, is expected to sell for as much as $1 million at an auction held on December 14-17 in Beverly Hills, California and online.

The animatronic model from “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” is part of a sale organized by Julien’s Auctions and Turner Classic Movies, which, like CNN, is owned by Warner Bros. Discovery. More than 1,000 props and memorabilia from some of the best-known sci-fi, fantasy, action and superhero movies and TV series will be available at the auction.

The most iconic and beloved alien of all time will be at the center of this celebration with the offering of an original hero mechanical animatronic E.T. head (Estimate: $800,000 - $1,000,000) created by the legendary Carlo Rambaldi and as seen throughout Steven Spielberg's, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. TCM and Julien's previously sold a full E.T. animatronic model for over $2.5 million dollars.

The model is expected to sell for up to $1 million.Julien’s Auctions

Designed by the late Carlo Rambaldi, the model has some incredibly expressive moves. Its nostrils open and close, and its veins pulsate, while cables also allow for the movement of its eyes, lips, eyebrows, forehead and tongue.

This model comes from Rambaldi’s own collection, as did the animatronic figure of E.T. sold by Julien’s Auctions last November for $2.56 million.

His daughter, Daniela Rambaldi, recalls her father finding inspiration for E.T.’s expressive blue eyes from their family cat “Kikka,” the auction house said.

The story of the homesick E.T. and his bond with Elliott, the boy who finds him, Spielberg’s 1982 movie won near-universal acclaim and was nominated for nine Oscars, of which it won four.

This sale will feature one of the most famous and legendary robots of all time, Model B-9 "The Robot" from the pioneering science fiction series of the 1960s, Lost In Space (Estimate: $300,000 - $500,000). One of only two full-scale figures that were made during the show's three-year run, this is one of the rarest artifacts from the era ever offered at auction which also is still functional.

The Robot featured in the TV series “Lost In Space.”Julien’s Auctions

Other artifacts from movie history are also up for sale, including a full Batman costume worn by Michael Keaton in “Batman Returns,” which has an estimate of up to $70,000, and a model of The Robot from the 1960s sci-fi series “Lost in Space.”

This model is “one of the rarest artifacts from the era ever offered at auction which also is still functional,” the auction house said, since only two full-scale models of The Robot were made during the show’s run. It is expected to be sold for up to $500,000.

Several items of Harry Potter memorabilia are for sale, too, including robes and the half-moon glasses worn by Richard Harris playing Albus Dumbledore in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” The robes – screen-matched for authenticity – and glasses are anticipated to reach up to $70,000 and $20,000, respectively.

And for Marvel fans, props such as Captain America’s shield, complete with battle scars, from https://kueceng.com/ “Captain America: The First Avenger,” and a helmet worn by Robert Downey Jr. playing Iron Man in “Captain America: Civil War” are expected to sell for up to $70,000 and up to $40,000, respectively.