During his 10-week trip to Antarctica in late 2008, Sternbach lugged around a bulky 8x10-inch Wisner camera, which he used to photograph a team of 30 scientists, researchers and support staff at the Palmer Research Station. A throwback in both size and design to cameras used 100 years ago, the vintage Wisner doesn't work well in harsh climate and it's much heavier and slower than digital cameras. But when it comes to portrait photography, Sternbach believes a Wisner camera is without equal. It produces images of the highest resolution that capture individuals in candid, relaxed and natural poses.
"By the time I got to making an exposure, people have almost forgotten they were having their picture taken," said Sternbach, whose project, "Antarctica in Black and White," was funded by an Antarctic Artists and Writers grant from the National Science Foundation."I tried to create a window on these people and show them as they are."
Initially Sternbach wanted to document the work of biologists, divers and sea captains, but he quickly realized that the Palmer station couldn't function without the cooks, mechanics, carpenters, waste managers and other support hands.
"They're essentially heroes," said Sternbach, who photographed almost everyone at the station. "They sacrifice their personal life to support a great cause. I was impressed with how no one really complained about the harsh conditions they work in. They're all heroic."
It's not the first time Sternbach worked with a Wisner camera. He used it to capture the declining lifestyle of dairy farmers in upstate New York and to document the desolate sites of pre-war industrial ruins in New York City. He hopes to use his "Antarctic Souls" environmental portraits to raise awareness about global warming.
"I photograph things that are disappearing, that are important to me; that's what I'm about," said Sternbach, who had his own darkroom by the age of 11 with equipment used by his grandfather.