• UO Interviews: Wrenee

    When we met Renee Lusano outside of the Slow Culture art gallery in Los Angeles, a little girl was asking to take her picture. She politely obliged, but only for a trade. She told the girl, who was hiding behind her mom's leg with a too-big point-and-shoot film camera hanging from her neck, “I want to take yours, too.” It was then that Renee took out her own point-and-shoot and snapped one careful shot of the girl, who warmed up and smiled in front of the lens. 

    Typically, when Renee shoots with her DJI Phantom 3 drone (which she's named Furby), she’ll turn the camera on herself—a technique you don’t often see in drone photography. Her aerial shots, which start as close-up selfies and pan out to extraordinarily wide shots of exotic spaces, have become the signature feature of her blog and serve as a focal point of her freelance work—including the wind turbine music video she collaborated on with lo-fi beach rocker, Jeans Wilder. 

    We spoke with Renee about how she went from collecting an apartment’s worth of mid-century furniture in her early 20’s to her current existence: living out a few bags and taking the furthest flights she can find at a moment’s notice.
    Photos by Andrea Sonnenberg

    Tell us a little bit about your background and where your interest in travel stems from.
    I was lucky to have parents that thought that it was important to go on trips and expose my sisters and me to new places. I grew up being taken on road trips around California and occasionally as far as Wisconsin, or the Florida Keys.  My dad is originally from Hawaii, so getting on a plane and traveling there became my favorite experience as a kid. As I grew up, I always felt this underlying dissatisfaction with life when I wasn’t traveling to distant places.  I didn't travel in my early 20's, when my priorities were based on other things, like music and going to shows, building and riding mopeds, and filling my apartment with mid-century furniture. It was only once I started working full-time and my time off was limited that I started to realize how important it was to do something meaningful with that time, and so I started spending money going places rather than buying things.

    Was your family into photography?
    I think my family was as into photography as the average family in the late '80s and early '90s was—when everybody shot family photos on film. My parents had pretty decent photography skills, but nothing extraordinary.  In high school, I would borrow the family camera and shoot photos of the highlights of my daily life—which was mostly going to punk shows, or hanging out in a grocery store parking lot acting like an idiot. 

    What was the first photo you took?
    I have no idea. My sisters and I were always taking embarrassing photos of one another, which was one of the ways we entertained ourselves as three sisters without any friends.

    What is it about drone photography that first appealed to you?
    I liked that flying a drone was super nerdy but that there was so much new creative potential with it. 

    What other photo and video mediums do you use most often?
    I love shooting film because it's what I know best and the photos always look and feel just right without spending hours of editing. My favorite cameras are the film point-and-shoot Contax T3, or rangefinders Contax G2 and Mamiya 7ii. Finding places to get film developed is becoming more and more difficult and expensive. Now that I'm sharing the places I travel on my website and Instagram account, and traveling often, I can’t be waiting days or weeks to get my film developed, so I’ve started shooting digital. 

    How do you come up with the concept for the Jeans Wilder "Marry Me" music video?
    My friend [Drew Breeze, who records as Jeans Wilder] asked me to put together anything I wanted to for a music video, and I happened to be going to Buffalo, New York, and Niagara Falls.  I had just come from Palm Springs where I flew my drone around the wind turbines, and I thought that the footage of the two places would go nicely together. 

    What would you be doing if drones didn’t exist?
    I would be doing what I am doing and traveling and taking photos—but with a lot less luggage.

    What do you think we still have to learn from drone culture?
    I really wish that people could look at technology with an open mind. It annoys me how many young and reasonable people get conspiracy-minded about drones, just as past generations surely did when current technology first appeared with televisions, cameras, and video cameras.  I'm sure that the first time people saw cameras and camcorders being used in public, there were individuals who felt it was a nuisance and violation of their privacy.  But especially now, when the average person wants to publicly share every dinner and trip to Target with the rest of the world, why is there so much fear associated with being an anonymous person in an aerial video?  Of course, there will be circumstances with peepers, stalkers or the paparazzi that can be individually addressed, but that small number of individuals should not create fear of an entire type of technology, which has so many uses. As for drones being a nuisance—get over it! There are plenty of places you can go and enjoy a drone-free experience, like all U.S. National Parks. 

    Do you think we have a lot of room for growth in terms of the art we create with drones?
    There is so much room for growth, but I think that the growth is currently being stunted by the laws and regulations on drones, which are currently both inadequate and overly strict. I think that flying a drone should require a permit which is acquired through an educational course which teaches people about safety, piloting and airspace.  Currently, I find it so difficult to keep up with where it is legal or illegal to fly a drone that for the most part I don’t fly when I'm home in California.  I would love to start a career in drone photography and videography, but to commercially operate a drone require a pilots license (to operate an airplane!), and a lengthy exemption application process with the [Federal Aviation Administration].  With all of the legal uncertainty, it is difficult to grow creatively.

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