Liquid Light

I recently wrote these words to appear alongside Joni Sternbach's images from Byron Bay in a gallery for The Anthropologist on Facebook. Check them both out!

Melissa (by Joni Sternbach)

Liquid Light

The Pass is a very particular place. It swells and swirls with adults, children, families, old and young. Locals and tourists sit alongside each other, indistinguishable in their swimmers and boardshorts, lying on their towels. The sweep of beach curves the inside length of the Bay, arcing back in on itself before trailing north again to the town and beyond. The mountains peak and trough in the distance, with evaporating oil rising from the eucalypts turning the landlocked horizon blue, bottle green and purple – that very particular Australian bush palette.

On the sand, warming in the morning summer sun, families have staked their claim. Children run and scream with delight as they play in the shallows, build castles and ride in the foamy waves close to shore. Parents stand guard – arms folded, legs square – or lie on their towels, relishing the summer break. People running, walking, playing, swimming, throwing, catching, talking, yelling, sleeping all the way along the coast as far as sun-filled eyes can see. The Pass is busy and beloved, it seems, by all.

Especially by those who surf. Those with bodies brown and tan, those with sunscreen thick across their cheeks and nose, those with loose, crispy hair. Those who walk across the sand, ignoring adults, children, families, young and old, looking instead to the waves. Those who stand in the wet sand just beyond the lap of the water, stretching their arms and legs, zipping up wetsuits, wrapping leg ropes around their ankles and knees. Those who walk into the water confident and sure of the way the ocean moves and where it will take them. Those who rise to catch waves of water and light, gliding, turning, speeding, dancing, laughing into the distance. Those who fall into the water and come up smiling. Those who ignore the perils of the sun and sea, dedicated to the water and waves.

The sun and sand and water mingle in between my toes. Friends gather around. I laugh and call to people I know as they emerge from the water. I paddle out myself, catching the waves that roll and peel from the headland. My body tingles with joy and the water catches me, passes me along the glassy face of the waves, spinning beneath me in invisible circles, lifting my board my body, my heart. The sunlight shifts, and as I walk back up the beach the sweat drips along my hairline to my jaw and onto the rocks at my feet. I’m smiling.

In amongst all this, in the sand beneath the pandanus palms, is Joni Sternbach - an artist’s tent, a hive of activity and an antique camera lumbered across the beach, rocks, pools of water collecting on the shore. While the children scream, the athletes jog and the surfers dance on water, Joni’s camera catches the space and time and light and bodies of the ocean people with sand on their skin and salt in their hair. In an unexpected way, Joni and her camera create moments of stillness as surfers and ocean lovers stand motionless for her. The time it takes to capture an image is like a held breath... then a slow exhalation and anticipation as the plate is run from the camera to the tent, the result unknown.

The Pass is rarely shot in black and white, its colours too beautiful to ignore. But by centralising the practice of photography, Joni’s collodion process uses liquid and light and time, there on the sand, to reveal the subjects and space in a way invokes dreams and memories, turning familiar faces into questions. For those who have never been there, it highlights the beauty of the place and people in ways that are warm, cold, tonal and stripped back, but which are all contained in the salty bodies captured on the beach. But for the locals – those who know it well - it asks them to think again, and to know The Pass and their place within it, anew.

Jemma (by Joni Sternbach)

Rusty (by Joni Sternbach)


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