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Joni Sternbach

January 27 – April 22, 2012
Artist's Talk, Book Signing and Opening Reception: January 27, 6:00-8:00pm

Joni Sternbach
Wayne & Brandon, Santa Barbara, CA 2008
  “SurfLand is an ongoing project of contemporary portraits of surfers created using the historic wet-plate collodion process. The photographs are a unique blending of subject matter and photographic technique. Using the instantaneous wet-plate collodion process, I am creating one-of-a-kind tintypes that are imbued with a feeling of ambiguity, timelessness and mystery.”
—Joni Sternbach


Captured directly on the shoreline, Joni Sternbach’s luminous images possess the immediate quality of a singular print created then-and-there as she captures portraits of contemporary surfers in tintype, a 19th-century technique first used during the American Civil War and little changed since then. The large camera seems to slow down time, so that her subjects possess a distilled and timeless grace and beauty that seems so far removed from the energy, movement and animation we commonly associate with the surfing life.

The technical procedure is labor intensive, with the chemistry mixed and applied to metal plates just seconds before each exposure; meaning that the chemicals must be hand-applied, exposed and developed before the plate dries. The exposure time is also very long, requiring stillness on behalf of the subject for many seconds. Sternbach’s vintage process lured surfers to pose for her camera and has resulted in what the photographer calls “part performance, part laboratory.”


Landscapes, seascapes, and the human imprint on these views have engaged me over the last decade. Returning year after year to the same location has led me to examine the juncture between land and sea, exploring subject matter in a constant state of transition. Surfers are an integral part of this liminal state. I am fascinated by the physical and poetic way that they inhabit America’s watery landscapes. I work with a large-format camera and wet process that is instantaneous, so it must be prepared and developed on location. Because all the process work is done in the field, I see my pictures immediately, as do my subjects. This is a key factor in helping me connect to and interact with them.
      Joni Sternbach
Kazzie, The Pass, OZ 2011
This elaborate procedure draws spectators as well. The photographic act is part theater and part craft as I interact with my sitters and other beach goers alike.The very nature of working with a wet chemical outdoors lends itself to spontaneous and unpredictable results. It is precisely this raw quality of the process that suits the subject matter, giving it a distinctive appearance and echoing important traditions of nineteenth-century anthropological photography. SurfLand is a chronicle and celebration of these denizens of the surf, and their place at the edge of the land and sea.” –Joni Sternbach

The original SurfLand exhibition was organized by the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts.

Click HERE for information about Joni Sternbach

All images are Ferrotype on Aluminum.

Click HERE for On View Magazine Cover Story featuring this exhibition.
Click HERE for press articles and official website.

Joni Sternbach Joni Sternbach
Joni Sternbach
Steve, Santa Barbara, CA 2009 Kim & Ed, Montauk, NY 2007 Cori, Santa Barbara, CA 2009

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The Southeast Museum of Photography is a service of Daytona State College
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Exhibitions and programs at the Southeast Museum of Photography are supported in part by Daytona State College, Volusia ECHO and the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Council on the Arts.

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