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Surfland by Joni Sternbach

7 years ago

7 days, 7 images on the World Photography Organisation Instagram feed.

#WPOfavs feature: @jstersurf

Joni Sternbach is a native New Yorker. She uses both large format film and early photographic processes to create contemporary landscapes and environmental portraits.

Her work is included in many public collections, with the most recent acquisition from the National Portrait Gallery in London, The Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City and Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. She is the recipient of several grants including the Clarence John Laughlin award and NYFA.



Tell us more about the series of images we featured on the feed. Do you have a favourite, and why? 

The series Surfland started ten years ago. What was on your instagram feed was a very small selection. One of my favorite images is of Kassia Meador and her dog. She’s an amazing longboard surfer who is both incredibly sweet and talented. The day of this shoot she introduced me to Donald Takayama, a renowned Hawaiian surfer and surfboard shaper. While I was taking his photo, Kassia was sitting on the beach in pretty much the same position you see her in there. She’s super relaxed and her dog miraculously held still for the long exposure. The best part is their reflection in the wet sand.


Congratulations on winning 2nd place at the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize. What has been the reception to the work so far? 

Thank you! It was huge honor to have my work included in the short list and to win 2nd prize is just so wonderful. I have gotten a really positive response so far. I think that the fact that my image is so far from the main stream has a certain appeal. There’s a tenderness to the people in my photograph that I think transcends the idea of surfers or surfing. I also think that people are excited to see a photograph that is not on a piece of paper, but rather on metal and an object.


When did you start experimenting with tintypes and early photographic processes? 

I learned the wet plate collodion process in 1999, however, I had done many other historic printing process long before that. I am interested in the conversation between techniques of the past and current ideas. I think photography is the most exciting when it combines techniques and processes for a subject matter that you might not expect would work well together. However, finding that synchronistic match between process and project is not as simple as one might think!



Do you have a photographic philosophy? 

Well, I tend to work more intuitively than philosophically, but I feel I have altered what we think of as the charged dynamic between the photographer and the sitter. Because my process takes so long. there’s a lot of down time between composing the picture and actually taking it. Because I spend a great deal of time with the chemistry, I am not always present and in front of my subjects, telling them what to do or how to hold themselves. This leaves my subjects a lot more freedom to express themselves and interact with me and my picture taking process.. In many ways, I let my subjects guide the photograph and in doing so, I think my photographs show this collaborative spirit.

Where in the world are you and what's next for you? 

I am in brooklyn right now, it was snowing this morning. I am headed to California this winter and to Uruguay and Costa Rica over the next year to continue the Surfland series. In between I hope to continue my pursuit of the western landscape.