To launch the summer season, Joseph Bellows Gallery is pleased to present three discrete yet complementary exhibitions titled, Sea Creatures by Joni Sternbach, Dana Montlack & Liz Lantz. The separate exhibitions will feature selections from each artist’s work that examine life above, below and around the sea. They include one-of-a-kind tintype portraits of surfers (Sternbach), images of life beneath the deep (Montlack), and the lifestyles of women surfers around southern California (Lantz).
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. The photographs in Sea Creatures by Joni Sternbach, Dana Montlack & Liz Lantz are of one conversation. Although using different photographic styles (which complements the experience of each), they 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 — a perfect group exhibition to inaugurate summer in San Diego. The photographs will be on view from June 11 – August 13, 2011. An Opening Reception with the artists will be held on June 11 (5 – 8 pm).
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.
Dana Montlack’s work is highly organic. It starts with the actual physical world, but is transformed into sensual abstractions that never quite lose their original referent. Some are single images, others are made into diptychs or triptychs. Montlack loves to look through the surface of the natural world in order to see and understand its deeper mechanizations. She then aims her lens at it, using micro or macro lenses, shooting through a microscope, or through the use of a scanner, thereby magnifying, extending, or juxtaposing what she finds into imaginatively exquisite forms. Some of her photographs involve the layering of one transparent image over another; other images incorporate figures and architecture. “Through my work, I attempt to cut away the imagined borders between the inner world and outer world, the insignificant and significant,” writes the artist. “In doing so, the inextinguishable energy of life becomes visible, one which reveals and underscores the connectedness of all things.” Sea Creatures features her Water Series, which reconstructs the shells, sharks, flora and fauna of the ocean into colorful montages.
Montlack received her MFA at Otis Parsons College of Art and Design. She has exhibited in several museum and gallery exhibitions around the U.S. She has worked with designers on commissioned pieces, and is in several national public and private collections. Most recently her work was acquired by the Museum of Contemporary Art/La Jolla. This summer, Montlack begins an artist residency at MCA, ending in a solo exhibition. She will generate works based on interpretations of the archives at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Liz Lantz was raised in Chicago, far from the ocean. But after securing her BFA in photography from Columbia College in Chicago, she moved to San Diego to develop her love of surfing, which she began on Lake Michigan. Lantz shoots with a medium format camera on film. This gives her photographs a distinctive square format used by many photographers, Diane Arbus being the most recognized. Composing within a square is challenging. When done well, the resulting images have a strong sense of immediacy; each element carries equal weight and leads the eye into a more personal narrative. In this way, Lantz photographs familiar objects (dolphin magnets on kitchen cabinets), places (sandy parking lots), and activities (waxing a board) so that a fuller atmosphere emerges about life on and near the water. “My favorite subjects to shoot are those that are less obvious, meaning things that people might not normally think to take a picture of," says Lantz. The facts in her documentary style shooting are softened by a generous poetry; the idiosyncrasies of people’s lives become tenderly singular and beautiful. Sea Creatures features Lantz’s Sirens Series, a collective portrait of women surfers of all ages.
Lantz has been in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Illinois and southern California. She has been published in Photo District News, Nature, and several surfing journals, and was awarded grants from the Illinois Arts Council and PDN’s Photo Annual, among other honors.