Tore Ofteness has been a local photographer for more than 30 years. Born in Norway, Ofteness, 72, lives in Bellingham. Now all but retired, Ofteness recently published the book, “A Higher Perspective: Aerial Photography of the Pacific Northwest,” through Village Books’ Chuckanut Editions. It documents a collection of more than 100 images—almost all from film photography—he captured through open windows in small airplanes or helicopters. To craft his book, Ofteness sorted through his file cabinets, stuffed full of negatives and slides, as well as a collection of digitally stored photos.
Ofteness says he took up photography as an 18-year-old in the army, hoping to fill free time with something other than drinking beer, a common activity among soldiers who had left home for the first time. As an airplane and helicopter mechanic, Ofteness writes that he became “intrigued by the view from a couple thousand feet above the Earth.” It was then that photography, and his interest in perspective, molded into a passion: aerial photos.
After returning from the military, Ofteness pursued commercial photography at Seattle Community College and Western Washington University, where his first paid photography job was photo editor for Klipsun magazine and then The Western Front. After university, Ofteness’ career in photography involved work for companies such as Georgia-Pacific, Alcoa Intalco Works, and BP West Coast Products.
“As the old saying goes, you ‘knock on doors,’ Ofteness says. “That’s a cliché, but it works.”
Ofteness says he enjoys photographing facilities and construction sites because he likes mechanical things, and there are intriguing angles that give the photo dimension. Beyond these workplaces, Ofteness also appreciates landscape and nature photography. He has documented historical events in the area, like the Bellingham pipeline explosion in 1999.
Once, in an attempt to photograph Mount Baker, Ofteness told how the sun was setting and that the moon had yet to rise, creating a dim, evening glow.
From the base, Mount Baker wasn’t visible—all you saw were clouds. Ofteness and the airplane pilot soared up there anyway, clearing the clouds at 8,000 feet, and were rewarded with a dramatic view of Bellingham’s signature mountain in all its glory. Ofteness’ final photo—Mount Baker’s sunlit face in the forefront and Mount Shuksan’s peeping in the distance, emerging above a sea of purple-blue clouds—may seem like a lucky shot. But Ofteness’ precise camera settings and timeliness made all the difference. After all, there’s no display screen on a film camera, and you only have so many shots at your disposal. Despite his precise performances, Ofteness says he’s “a human being, not a machine.”
He taught a photography class for 25 years at Bellingham Technical College until four years ago. Around his retirement, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which he describes as a “nuisance.” The disease impacts Ofteness’ steadiness while walking or holding a camera, but he says medication helps.
He may no longer be in the classroom, but he’s still teaching. After our interview, we moved outside to take his portrait. As I fumbled with my settings, Ofteness, from his position against the mustard wall, politely threw out some numbers for the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. I took a photo or two with my settings and got a dark image. Then I took his suggestions, snapped a photo, and the image was perfect.
He emailed me the next day. During our interview, he had shared a tip about a flash issue, but we couldn’t figure it out on my camera. Like the thoughtful, technical photographer he is, his email included research on the subject and an answer to the problem. When we had talked, Ofteness had said he’s “just a photographer…habitually.” I hope I get there.
360.733.6743 | toreofteness.com