Joni Sternbach is a talented New York photographer who captures iconic images of surfers using a traditional process called tin-type using a wet collodion process. She travels throughout the year casting subjects for her project “SurfLand.” We caught up with Joni to learn more.
What was life like growing up?
I grew up in the suburbs of New York. It was not a very interesting place. As a teenager, I often went down to the Bronx River Parkway as it was the only natural looking green space. But my grandmother had a cottage out in Rockaway and Long Beach, and it was there that I learned to swim and love the ocean.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young woman?
I think the women I admired as a young art student were Diane Arbus and Greta Garbo. Worlds apart, they both seemed to be these fiercely independent and creative women.
When did you get your first surfboard?
I don’t surf, so I never got my first surfboard.
Where did you interest in photography come from?
I was a Fine Arts major in a college where photography was a required course. I became very interested in the camera and also with how new photography was compared to painting. After 1 1/2 years of studying it, I switched to the Photography Deptartment.
What is your process when creating your art?
When working on the SurfLand project, my process is all about happenstance, spontaneity and good will. I often just show up at a location, set up the camera and just wait to see who’s there and what will happen. When I do start talking with people, a whole new arena opens up. We talk about where we are from, what I am doing, if they’d be interested in participating. And from that place, we begin to collaborate to make a tintype photograph. I let go of control and leave a lot to chance.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out? And why?
Traveling as a tourist and traveling to photograph are two very different experiences for me. When I come to Cali to shoot, new beaches are a source of excitement and and a huge thrill. Each new landscape that I visit seems to open up a whole new direction or thought about how to be in that place and how to take the picture. Like for example at San O the day I met you, the first photo I took was of Christian facing into the parking lot. I never shot into a parking lot before.
What code do you live by?
I live by the code that you should treat people with interest and respect.
What inspires you?
So many things-—the ocean, the countryside, the light, a painting, a baby’s eyes, people, energy, music.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
Not to take things personally. Wait … did I really learn it?
Do you have any regrets or wish you had done something differently?
Some, yes. In a time of crisis, it’s hard to think straight and live in a way where your love for someone is evident.
What are you most proud of?
My two children—Gabriel and Zoe.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Well, even though I do not surf, surfing holds a strong meaning for me and has changed my life.
What’s your favorite meal?
It depends where I am, but I love Italian food. In Montecito, there’s an awesome sushi place called Sakana and the Whodidily Cupcakes are amazing
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
I am waiting for the new Chieftains CD to be released, but I am a sucker for Dylan and Feist.
What causes, projects or organizations do you support?
Surfrider, Doctors Without Borders and March of Dimes for their assistance (mine too) with premature babies.
What are you most grateful for?
This wonderful life
What’s next for Joni Sternbach?
I’ve been working with some of the girls from the Miss Shinnecock Teen Pageant at the Shinnecock Indian Reservation in Southampton. I am hoping to continue the project this Spring. I am also thinking about the SurfLand project and how it relates to Americana. I want my next stop to be Hawaii.
Find out more about Joni Sternbach and her project SurfLand here. All images are copyrighted and may not be used without permission.