/01 The Lure of the Sea

Joni Sternbach


SurfLand is a collection 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.

Landscapes, seascapes, and the human imprint on these views has been my focus. 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 must be prepared and developed on location. The procedure is elaborate and fortunately draws spectators as well as entices new subjects. Other subjects have found their way to me via surf websites, pro shops, and word-of-mouth. Once on location I compose carefully before sensitizing the plate. The very nature of collodion is spontaneous and unpredictable. It is precisely the raw quality of the process that suits the subject matter, giving it a distinctive appearance and echoing important traditions of nineteenth-century anthropological photography.

The photographs were shot on both coasts: Montauk’s Ditch Plains on the East Coast as well as Malibu, Del Mar and Rincon beaches in California. SurfLand is a chronicle and celebration of these fascinating denizens of regional surf spots across the nation.