My photographs over recent years engage traditions of landscape, seascape, and architecture. Working with a large-format camera and a historic process (wet-plate collodion), I have concentrated on locations that are close to or directly on the water. At this juncture between land and sea, I explore subject matter in a constant state of transition.

For the past couple years I have photographed surfers in Montauk and in California. Their activity takes place on the water; the people are persistent elements in a shifting scene. The singular, primitive act of surfing on the water is tempered by the social and negotiated state of human interaction on the shore. The surfers act as a bridge between the sea as an unbridled force of nature and the shoreline, a place governed by social expectations.

My approach is simple: introductions are made, and each person willing to collaborate steps into the water and poses. The sea acts as both a backdrop and a watery stage. As the tide recedes, the rocky surface underneath is revealed, looking more like the moon than a beach. Photographing people at surfing locations is a natural extension of my interests, exploring yet another dimension of landscape and its evolving state.

Working with a “wet” instantaneous process that must be prepared and developed on location serves me well. It draws spectators and entices new subjects. Collodion compels me to compose carefully before sensitizing the plate, yet its very nature is spontaneous and unknowable. The raw quality of the process suits the subject matter, and the distinctive appearance of the finished works echoes nineteenth-century traditions of anthropological photography.

—Joni Sternbach