In a blend of old and new, talented New York photographer Joni Sternbach captures contemporary portraits using a traditional process called tin-type using a wet collodion process. Her ongoing project, SurfLand, beautifully showcases surfers, beings who can flit between the worlds of land and sea. Truly one-of-a-kind tintypes, these iconic photographs are created via a unique blending of subject matter and photographic technique and are imbued with a feeling of ambiguity, timelessness and mystery.
Using a large format camera and the wet-plate collodion process, a traditional technique that dates back to the Civil War, the photography provides a quality that typical film doesn’t have because of its color sensitivities. According to Joni, “It’s a very finite way of working that’s not very flexible, but it gives me the opportunity to create something different in this world of fast digital technology. Some call it the digital backlash, but that’s not the main reason I do it.”
Indeed, it’s the combination of the medium as well as the subject matter that gives SurfLand the nostalgia and appreciation for yesteryear. Joni’s fascination of the juncture between land and sea, and its constant state of transition made surfers a natural and integral subject for her, although she herself is not a surfer. According to her site, ‘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.”
The photographs were shot on both coasts: Montauk’s Ditch Plains and Rhode Island on the East Coast as well as Malibu, Del Mar and Rincon beaches in California.
Joni Sternbach’s book SurfLand can be found at Photolucida and Photoeye bookstores online, which was compiled after Joni won the Photolucida Critical Mass book award in 2007. SurfLand was featured in the MoMA store, and she has appeared in museums and galleries around the country including the Peabody Essex Museum. Her work has also been featured in Surfer’s Journal, Club Of The Waves, Water magazine, ESM Magazine, and ESPN.com.