Ed, 2008, Joni Sternbach


The Peabody Essex Museum presents more than 40 images of stunning luminosity and elegance in SurfLand, the first solo museum exhibition of photographer Joni Sternbach opening May 16, 2009. Sternbach captures portraits of surfers in tintype, a 19th-century technique little changed since its invention. The combination of historic process and contemporary subject is a dynamic one, yielding direct, timeless, one-of-a-kind images of individuals standing on the verge of sea and land. The combination of contemporary and historic extends to the presentation of SurfLand images accompanied by a selection of PEM tintypes from the 1860s through the 1890s, including portraits of Civil War soldiers and members of the Wampanoag tribe.

Surfland launches PEM’s new schedule of fine arts photography exhibitions organized by the Museum’s first-ever curator of photography, featuring contemporary works by world-class artists three-times per year. “I’m thrilled that the Peabody Essex Museum will introduce its new photography program with a debut of this powerful body of work,” said PEM Curator of Photography, Phillip Prodger. “Through Joni Sternbach’s lens, relationships between surfers, their boards and the landscape are shown with a primal grace.”

Part performance, part laboratory

“Surfers came and found me,” said Sternbach, who discovered that her wooden, 19th-century-style view camera and portable darkroom on the beach attracted potential subjects. Captured on the shores of San Diego, Santa Cruz, and Montauk, New York, Sternbach’s images possess the immediate quality of a singular print created then and there. The process of creating a tintype can indeed be as much an act of performance as visual art. Tintype is a wet-plate technique, meaning that the chemicals must be hand-applied, exposed and developed before the plate dries. The chemistry is slow, requiring utter stillness on behalf of the subject for two or three seconds. Only the waves move evocatively around their ankles.

Far from typical surfer action shots, the images have an otherworldly quality. At the place where sea and sand meet, Sternbach’s subjects stand like ocean creatures briefly alighted on land before slipping back into the surf. Not representative of any physical ideal, they embody a range of types––from weekend warriors to seasoned athletes. Sternbach’s democratic eye renders professional and amateur equal, undistinguished by beauty, age or experience and unified by their love of the waves.


Joni Sternbach: Between Land and Sea. Joni Sternbachwithintroduction by Phillip Prodger. photolucida, 2009.


SurfLand: Photographs by Joni Sternbach (May 16, 2009 through October 9, 2009)

Valérie Belin: Made Up (October 17, 2009 through January 18, 2010)

Ansel Adams: At the Water’s Edge (Coming soon)

Mark Ruwedel: Footsteps (Coming soon)

About the Peabody Essex Museum

The Peabody Essex Museum presents art and culture from New England and around the world. The museum's collections are among the finest of their kind, showcasing an unrivaled spectrum of American art and architecture (including four National Historic Landmark buildings) and outstanding Asian, Asian Export, Native American, African, Oceanic, Maritime and Photography collections. In addition to its vast collections, the museum offers a vibrant schedule of changing exhibitions and a hands-on education center. The museum campus features numerous parks, period gardens and 24 historic properties, including Yin Yu Tang, a 200-year-old house that is the only example of Chinese domestic architecture on display in the United States.

HOURS: Open Tuesday-Sunday and holiday Mondays, 10 am-5 pm. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

ADMISSION: Adults $15; seniors $13; students $11.* Additional admission to Yin Yu Tang: $5. Members, youth 16 and under and residents of Salem enjoy free general admission and free admission to Yin Yu Tang.
*Does not apply to children in school/tour groups

INFO: Call 866-745-1876 or visit our Web site at


April Swieconek
Public Relations Manager
Phone: 978-745-9500, ext. 3109
Fax: Fax: 978-745-7550

Whitney Riepe
Senior Public Relations Associate
Phone: 978-745-9500, ext. 3228
Fax: 978-745-7550

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