Ofer Wolberger, born 1976, received his MFA in Photography from The School of Visual Arts in 2001. He lives and works in New York.
Peter F. (PF): Ofer, beside your photography education you received a BA in Studio Art, Art History and a minor in cinema studies. So you are interested in film as well as in photography. What made your decision to select photography as field of activity?
Ofer Wolberger (OW): It was cinema that led me to photography in the first place. I had always been a fan of the movies growing up but in school I studied both the narrative and avant-guarde histories of film and I basically became obsessed, a total film junkie. At around the same time I took my first photography class, mostly out of curiosity as I realized that photography was very much a big element of cinema and I wanted to understand the essence of the still image. I’m still pretty crazy about cinema and am hoping to get back there some day.
PF: A major part of the fascination of your project ‘Life with Maggie’ comes from the expressive power of the mask used. Dealing with identity in some ways I see a relation to you early collage work “Collage Portraits” and “Crumpled Paper” here. What brought the idea to use a mask in your photography?
OW: The mask was something that just happened (just like ‘Crumpled Paper’ first happened), it wasn’t planned but when I saw what was happening I immediately became intrigued. That’s usually the way I work, I discover something by experimenting or playing around and then I go about trying to understand and shape what I’ve found into something more meaningful.
After making a few successful pictures of Maggie, I knew I wanted to continue and take it further. Only after working on the project extensively did I begin to see the connections with my earlier work regarding ideals of beauty and the exploration of identity. To me the mask doesn’t exist anymore as a separate thing, I don’t even consider it. I think of Maggie and that this is what she happens to look like.
PF: I wonder why there are no threatening images within ‘Life with Maggie’. Most of the images appear to be cautious and friendly. How far is this effect intended? Did you explore a wider emotional pallet while developing the project?
OW: I think there is a pretty wide range of emotion or mood in Life with Maggie but most of that feeling comes from the landscape or the setting itself and not so much from Maggie as her expression doesn’t really change. But if you look carefully, things change as a result of the light, the colors of her wardrobe and her surroundings and of course her body language and gesture. In general though, the idea is to show Maggie as she is, which to me is quite friendly but also sad in a way.
PF: ‘Life with Maggie’ is an ongoing project. Where does the voyage go after travelling through the USA and France? Do you already have an idea of what must be reached to complete the series?
OW: I don’t know if the project will ever be complete. As far as I can see, it can continue indefinitely and forever. I don’t know where she will be going but I’m sure she will continue to travel. I’m curious to see if and how she will age and change as time moves forward. I like the idea of her collecting images of herself fifty years from now.
PF: You travelled through France and you had solo shows in London and Berlin. So I suppose you have a special relation to Europe. Can you tell us something about that?
OW: The main draw to Europe for me and especially to France has been my wife, as she is French and we were living apart for some time and would travel back and forth between America and France. In a way, the project was born out of that situation and she performs the role of Maggie in all of the photographs. In general though, Maggie was an excuse to travel and see things through fresh eyes and I really felt the need to try and connect with a landscape different than my own.
PF: In your commissioned work your personal signature is outermost visible. How do you find a balance between your personal projects and your assignments? Do they influence each other?
OW: I am finding it much easier these days to balance my commissioned work along with my personal projects, but this wasn’t always the case. I’ve discovered that I can’t do both at the same time and that I need to set aside time to focus on one thing or the other. I’m sure that there is an influence between them as I usually try to approach things from a personal perspective.
PF: When I take a look on your work, I often see a void shining through. Are you alienated by the way this world looks like? What drives your vision? Are you aware of what makes you pull the trigger?
OW: I can’t say that I’m alienated by what the world looks like, but I am in awe of what I see and find. First and foremost I find myself attracted to strangeness or something slightly “off” and then to beauty. But no matter what it is, I always try to make things look beautiful, even if I’m looking at something that is terribly ugly. I can’t help it. I like to think of myself as a pessimist/optimist. I see the bad and the dark but then I see the bright side and hope it will get better.
PF: You are member of POC North America. What’s the story behind this new branch of the European photographers network Piece Of Cake, founded by Charles Fréger? What kind of advantages do you take from this network?
OW: Piece of Cake North America is really just getting started. Charles had the idea to create a sister collective based in North America and got in touch with Cara Phillips in New York and asked her to help get things going. I was one of many people asked to apply and was lucky enough to be accepted in the initial group. We just had our first workshop in October and it was a rewarding experience.
So far there are 15 members from around the USA and Canada; each one is unique and adds their own element to the group. I’m quite excited to be connected to so many talented artists and I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together.
PF: You maintain the weblog “Horses Think” since 2007. What do you think about photography blogs as platform for discussion? What should or can they achieve?
OW: I guess photography blogs hit a saturation point late last year or sometime around then and many people started to question the whole idea of blogging but for me it’s been a great platform to share ideas and inspirations, think out loud and practice my writing. I don’t think every artist should keep a blog because it’s actually a lot more work than you think if you really want to do it seriously and from an interesting perspective. I don’t post everyday and I only write when I want to, that’s the key for me so I don’t feel any pressure. These days something really has to grab me and then I’ll write about it. I plan to keep at it and see how things develop.
PF: Thank you very much for the Interview.