Joni Sternbach has spent over a decade creating portraits of surfers on beaches around the world. Surf pictures are traditionally studies of motion, instead with Sternbach's work we discover an ethnographic study in stillness, portraits captured in a silvery and antiqued timelessness.
In her Surfland series, Joni Sternbach works exclusively with large-format antique cameras to create unique tintypes; a process that dates back to the origins of photography and is equally as cumbersome and fickle of a practice as when it was first invented. The wet-plate collodion process is a difficult and time-consuming technique that involves coating a metal plate with liquid chemicals, immediately exposing an image onto it whilst the chemicals are still wet and developing it immediately. Sternbach calls this method 'the Polaroid of yesteryear.' This technique is difficult enough to master within the setting of a studio equipped with a darkroom. Sternbach instead shoots on beaches, exposed to the temperamental elements of the wind, sand and salt and develops her tintypes in a make-shift darkroom on site.
There is a performance and spectacle associated with Sternbach's process. Shooting long-exposures with a bulky and heavy antique camera, setting up her elaborate equipment on the beach, taking the picture and developing it in public, she is under observation at all times. Sternbach comments that within her work, 'it's this curious combination of artistry, technique, puppet show and performance, all on the beach.'
The resulting portraits are ethereal - surfers captured as free spirits in timeless silence - the historic process of tintype linking these individuals to adventurers and ocean-goers both past and future.