Photo shows – Sea Creatures: Beachside Photographs opens in San Diego featuring Joni Sternbach’s wet-plate collodion work

© Joni Sternbach, Mary Ellen, 2011

© Joni Sternbach, Dave, 2011

© Joni Sternbach, Kazzie Mahina, 2011

There’s a new show, Sea Creatures, which opened a week ago at the Joseph Bellows Gallery in California, that looks like it’s well worth a visit if you’re in the area of visiting over the summer.  Featuring works by three artists Joni Sternbach, Dana Montlack and Liz Lantz it runs until 13 August.

I was in contact via Facebook with Joni recently, while I was in San Diego where she pointed me to the Surfing Madonna mosaic mural – now drawing “a mass following” according to the article. It appeared under the highway in Encinitas, San Diego over the Easter weekend and is stirring conversation and debate about conservation and illegal artistic endeavours.

Joni Sternbach uses old photographic processes shot using contemporary Surf ‘n’ Sea subjects and beach locations to create images that point to quintessential Californian themes.

From the press release: “Sternbach’s 19th-century wet-plate collodion method transforms surfers from around the U.S. and Australia into timeless portraits of modern seafarers alongside the primal landscapes they inhabit. The photographs in Sea Creatures: Beachside Photographs by Joni Sternbach, Dana Montlack & Liz Lantz are of one conversation.”

From the press release continued:

“Joni Sternbach works with a large format camera using the wet-plate collodion process first used during the American Civil War. The procedure is labor intensive, with chemistry mixed and applied to metal plates just seconds before each exposure. Her darkroom is a rolling tent set up on site; it attracts audiences wherever she goes.

“On the shorelines of both American coasts, and most recently in Australia, her distinctive process lures surfers to pose for her camera. The use of a large camera slows time down, so that her subjects adopt a timeless beauty and permanence that defies the otherwise active, animated life of surfing the big wave. Some are beautiful and fit, others show the toll of sun and salt water. The styles of their boards, the decals they place there, the wet suits and swimsuits they don, the hair that is usually long — all describe a highly eclectic tribe of mariners that has long fascinated the photographer.

“In 2009, Sternbach’s surfers were exhibited at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. Curator Phillip Prodger wrote, “Gone is the electricity of the sport, the precarious balance of riding big waves, and the vibrant colors of cerulean blue seas and tropical sunsets. …Instead, her surfers are frank, human, and democratic, depicted in unpretentious black and white. Like a latter-day ethnographer, she provides a catalogue of types, distinguished by fashion, sex, age, and body type.” Sea Creatures features her Surfland Series.

“Sternbach first came to notice in Peter Galassi’s 1991 Museum of Modern Art  exhibition, Pleasures and Terrors of Domestic Comfort. She concentrates largely on landscape photography. Her book Surfland was nominated as “Best Book of 2009” by Photo Eye.

“She has had over fifteen solo exhibitions both nationally and internationally, and won numerous awards and residencies, among them, the Center for Land Use Interpretation, The Art Park/Australia, Light Work, and The New York Foundation for the Arts. She has taught workshops at ICP, NYU, and around the country. Her photographs are in several public collections nationwide.”

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