I met Ofer Wolberger in the Artist in the Marketplace
Fellowship program at the Bronx Museum of the Arts in 2003. It was all too
apparent at the time that he was headed for great things, while I was headed
for Crown Heights and a cabinet full of ramen. Ofer was shooting lustrous and large 4×5 and 8×10 imagery,
and had few commercial clients. He had recently finished his MFA at SVA. Fast
forward a few years, and I’m seeing Ofer’s name pop up pretty regularly, most
notably (for me) in Wired Magazine, which does such a magnificent job with its
editorial photography that it’s practically porn. He’s also represented by Bransch, and is working on a cool project
about a lady named Maggie.
I bribed Ofer with some high-sodium instant meals, and he
agreed to talk to me about how he makes his work. And about David Lynch. Thanks,
You seem to have very successfully
bridged the gap between personal and commercial work. Many of your assignments
for magazines like Wired produce spectacular, gasp-worthy images. Is some
of the commercial work you do as satisfying as the personal?
I have definitely enjoyed and found
inspiration in many of the editorial assignments I’ve been given. Those Wired
commissions you speak of are dream jobs that don’t come around as often as
you’d like. Even with the exotic locations and sometimes fascinating subjects
of an editorial shoot, it can still be extremely difficult to come up with a
killer photograph that satisfies both the needs of the magazine and my own
interests. Sometimes I get lucky and the two intersect perfectly. Other times I
have to do the best I can with some really difficult situations. But that’s the
challenge and it can be very rewarding. The good results though do seem to
happen most when a magazine hires me to do what I do best and are willing
to let me run with it.
The image of yours that still
staggers me is the top level of the parking garage with buildings looming in
the background. I believe it was taken in Atlanta. The scene seems utterly
unreal, almost monochrome. Was this image post-produced digitally? When do you
use digital to supplement your process, and do you still shoot film primarily?
Yes, I’m still shooting film, mostly
4×5 and 8×10, as well as some medium format. But everything ends up going
through a digital process of some sort. I couldn’t turn back to doing things
the old way once I realized the kind of control digital imaging enabled me to
have. I was never the biggest fan of working in a darkroom anyway. Basically
with film and traditional printing you are working with the limitations of the
medium: the film and paper. With digital there are no limitations. I love that
I can have the look of film printed on a traditional c-print paper but with all
the control of contrast and color that digital offers. For me it’s really about
detail, I like to see everything and retain as much shadow and highlight
information and for that digital is the best. But I will say that there are
many people out there doing things digitally who have no clue what they’re
doing. It can be very disappointing and you see it in all the museums and
galleries, really horrible looking prints that should have been done correctly.
The photograph in Atlanta was a
lucky fluke. I went up to the parking garage to see the view because I was
specifically interested in those repetitive buildings. The day was quickly
coming to an end and when I looked at the view, I wasn’t sure I could make a
picture happen so I focused my 8×10 on a different view. But as the sun began
to set I started to see what I wanted. Then I realized that I didn’t have a
wide enough lens to capture it. My friend who was traveling with me at the time
had a 4×5 in the car with a wider lens, so I used that and set it up very
quickly. I was ready for the shot when I realized we were out of color negative
film. All we had left was one frame of Tungsten chrome. It was a nightmare
situation. I shot the frame of chrome and hoped that I made a good exposure,
most photographers bracket chrome a stop in each direction and choose the best
exposure later. Unfortunately I didn’t have that luxury plus I also knew that
the color would be completely blue due to the Tungsten balance of the film.
It took me a while to realize that I
could rescue the shot through digital means but it wasn’t easy to get the blue
completely out and still have a semi-realistic feeling. That photograph taught
me a lot about what interested me in a photograph and how I could go about
Much of your imagery is
city-centric, obviously interested in urban forms and the life that goes on
around it. Are you a city-mouse by nature? How does your style change when you
I’m quite tied to the city,
especially New York. Sometimes I find it hard to leave because I feel like I
might miss out on something exciting. Usually once I’m on the plane or in the
car I feel great and ready to explore something else. I also find that if I
don’t leave the city every two weeks or so, I get a bit stir crazy. I don’t
know if my style changes when I go rural, but I have been shooting quite a bit
of landscape over the past few years. I hope the images retain those hyper-real
yet eerie and mysterious qualities found in my cityscapes.
I’m intrigued by your “Maggie”
series. It seems like a departure from your previous work. She feels very
fifties to me, and I love the way the mask walks a line between reality and the
grotesque. I worry about why she needs that mask! Who is Maggie, and what does
At first I thought the Maggie
project was a departure as well, that it didn’t fit in with what I normally do.
Then I realized that it’s actually a combination of many past ideas rolled into
one. I like to collage quite a bit and did so very seriously for many years in
college and even grad school. That lead to the Crumpled Paper series which to
me was always a kind of collage. Then I started photographing the real world
leaving the collage aesthetic behind. With the Maggie photos, the two worlds
come together. It’s like she’s the collage element brought out into the real
world. You’ve probably only seen the photographs of her on my website (which
feel more personal and private) but I’ve been working on the project for the
past year and there is a whole group of new images that are very different in
feeling than those early photographs of her. She’s been doing a lot of traveling
around the United States as well as France.
I’m glad you picked up on the
fifties feeling. As I see it, Maggie is a lost figure from the past trying to
find a place where she fits in. She doesn’t need the mask, that’s just who she
is. She’s an alienated character.
Maggie at the Beach, Pensicola, FL, July 23, 2007
Are you working on any other series
aside from the Maggie work? On your blog, it’s apparent how much time you spend
thinking about other photographers and their long-term projects, and you
clearly love photography books. Is a book project something you’ve thought
about, or are you quite busy day-to-day with your commercial assignments?
I’m working on a bunch of different
things right now. I’m really trying not to filter my ideas or methods too much,
I had enough of that in school. I’m also trying to work outside of the series.
Maggie is really the first photographic series I’ve worked on since 2001. Until
now I’ve just been making singular images that have similar ideas and themes
but I don’t really see them as a series or project per se.
Horsesthink came out of a desire to
share my passion for photography, film and art in general. It’s also a great
way to sort out my ideas and opinions and practice my writing. I found myself
reading a ton of blogs that kept my mind going and really inspired me to keep
working. Of course I love photography books and dream of making one. My
plan right now is to work on the Maggie pictures for a bit longer (although I
think the project could go on forever and travel all over the world) and then
try and put a book together of her travels around America and France. I know
how I want to do it, I just need a few more great photographs to make it work.
I’ve recently re-watched all 29
episodes of Twin Peaks, and I’ve been unable for months to make any pictures
that don’t either directly correspond, or reference the visual acuity of the
Lynch series. Are you visually impressionable in this way? Have you developed
any stylistic obsessions after seeing a film or work that intrigues you?
I love Twin Peaks, especially the
two-hour pilot episode, it might be one of David Lynch’s best and creepiest
films ever. I know what you mean about influences and I am extremely visually
impressionable. I’m like a sponge but luckily I also have a bad short term
memory. I probably see at least 5 films a week in the theater, sometimes more.
Most of those films are older films screened at repertory houses like Film
Forum, Anthology Film Archives, Lincoln Center or MoMa. For a while I was
obsessed with Peter Bogdanovich and then it was Douglas Sirk and his
technicolor craziness. In a way the Maggie photographs are indebted to Sirk’s
colorful and emotional palette. Lately I’ve been discovering some great color
films by Richard Fleischer as well as revisiting some of my all time favorites
like Elia Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass. Not sure how the influences
will manifest themselves but they always seem to rise to the surface.
Step up to a more powerful photography website!Try PhotoShelter
Contact us if you have a question!
T. (212) 206-0808 or send us a message
Our Client Services team is available to help you and answer your questions Monday through Friday from 9am - 6pm EST.
All photographs and illustrations that appear on the site are copyright of their respective owners.
©2005-2011 PhotoShelter, Inc.