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Monday 8 August 2011

Lyrical Images of Life by the Sea: Sea Creatures, Joseph Bellows Gallery, San Diego.

Sea Creatures, an exhibition featuring work from Joni Sternbach, Dana Montlack and Liz Lantz, examines life above, below and around the sea. Featuring tintype portraits of surfers, images of life beneath the deep, and the lifestyles of women surfers around southern California, Sea Creatures is on show at Joseph Bellows Gallery until 13 August.

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. Montlack dives below the sea to capture the life there, and then re-interprets them into painterly photo collages. Lantz poetically renders the details of women surfers’ lives: the trek to the sea, the back of a van, prized tattoos and amulets. Although using different photographic styles (which complements the experience of each), the photographs on display blend the specifics of people and their environments with life around and below the ocean. They depict diversity in a place of exhilaration and solace. Taken together, these three distinct artists, who use the beach as a flash point for their subject matter, generate a more complete, lyrical picture of life by the seashore.

Joni Sternbach works with a large format camera using the wet-plate collodion process first used during the American Civil War. The procedure is labour 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.

Sea Creatures is on show at Joseph Bellows Gallery until 13 August.


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