Joni Sternbach


Joni Sternbach, Hannah, Surfrider Beach, Malibu, CA, unique tintype, 8×10″


Joni Sternbach, Dave, Dave’s Farm, Broken Head, NSW, Australia, unique tintype, 8×10″


Joni Sternbach, The Mers, Main Beach, Byron Bay, NSW, Australia, unique tintype, 8×10″


Joni Sternbach, Laura, Ditch Plains, Montauk, NY, unique tintype, 8×10″


Joni Sternbach, Malloy Brothers, Malloy House, Lompoc, CA 2013, unique tintype, 8×10″


Joni Sternbach, Robert + Wingnut, Ditch Plains, Montauk, NY, unique tintype, 8×10″



Joni Sternbach, Amico kids, Ventura, CA, unique tintype 8×10″


SurfLand is a collection of contemporary portraits of surfers photographed primarily on two continents. The pictures are a unique blending of subject matter and photographic technique. Using the historic 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 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. 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.

The photographs were shot on both coasts of the United States as well as Australia and the UK: SurfLand is a chronicle and celebration of these fascinating denizens of regional surf spots, and their place at the edge of the land and sea.


Joni Sternbach was born in the Bronx, New York. She graduated from New York University/International Center of Photography (ICP) with an M.A. in Photography in 1987. She is currently a visiting artist at Cooper Union and a faculty member at both ICP and Center For Alternative Photography in NYC where she teaches wet-plate collodion. Her work is part of many public collections including the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Museum of Photographic Arts, Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, France, St Louis Art Museum and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. She is the recipient of many grants including NYFA and CAPS and the 2011 Clarence John Laughlin and 2010 Santo Foundation awards.

Joni Sternbach is represented by Rick Wester Fine Art. Surf Site Tin Type was published by Damiani 2015