The Essence of Water Inspires Art
By Abigail Ryan | Photography by Jonah Allen
Flash back to a young boy on the beach, visiting the Gulf of Mexico in Seaside, Florida, on a family vacation. At age ten, he took his first surf lesson, and it changed the course of his life. He realized the transformative power of water and grew to become obsessed with the ways it flows and moves.
Born and raised in the suburbs of Atlanta, Jonah Allen endured a sort of long-distance relationship with his love, the Gulf of Mexico, as a teenager. As a solution to his heartache over being five hours away, Allen began photographing the other bodies of water around him—lakes, streams, pools, and more—to ease his withdrawal from the Gulf. Thankfully, his family often took trips back to the beach. “I spent countless hours in the emerald gulf, mesmerized by the energy within it,” Allen recalls. “With my camera, I could capture those fleeting moments and take them back to Georgia as memories. This ended up creating a division in me—I lived in Atlanta, but my true home was at the beach. That division lasted fifteen years until I finally decided it was time to leave Georgia.”
Following this life-changing decision, he worked for months to save the money for a round-the-world trip. With a little help from his father, who worked for Delta Air Lines, Allen took a leap of faith and set out on a yearlong journey to surf in different places and document the inspiring waters along the way. His photos tell stories from his adventures in Chile, Indonesia, Europe, Peru, and many more destinations. But it was always the Gulf of Mexico that called to him the most.
After Allen spent a year traveling the world, surfing the most incredible waves, and capturing the powerful waters of the earth in his photos, he finally moved full-time to the Gulf Coast of Florida. “Reflecting on the whole year abroad, I really saw how water connects us all, no matter where we are on the planet,” he says. “I gained many different perspectives on water, from the respect of the Hawaiians to the vitality of the ocean in Chile, the agricultural use in Indonesia, and the consequences of climate change in Peru. Something that emerged was the duality of water; it provides life just as easily as it can endanger it, and our usage influences this. All around the world, people are both using water sustainably and misusing it. This got me thinking, ‘What is happening to the water of Walton County and the Gulf of Mexico?’ So, I’ve been creating artwork around this idea and raising other questions: How are all the watercourses of the Gulf being influenced? What does water mean to the people around the Gulf? What draws people to the Gulf waters?”
“Reflecting on the whole year abroad, I really saw how water connects us all, no matter where we are on the planet.”
Using aerial photography, Allen can explore different perspectives and challenge his viewers to look at water in new ways. He creates large-format art (four-by-six feet and larger) depicting views of the coastal dune lakes, the Gulf, and other waterways in Northwest Florida by piecing together several photos so that the finished project can show acres at a time. The results are stunning statement pieces that fit perfectly in the luxurious homes along the Gulf Coast. He also accepts commissioned works for clients who would like a specific view or idea to come to life. His venture is growing, and his art has gained recognition around the area and beyond—he was even chosen as an exhibiting artist for the Digital Graffiti festival in Alys Beach this year and earned an honorable mention from the judges.
“On the surface, my collections are based on the allure of water; yet, on a deeper level, the images aim to inspire a deep respect for the earth’s waterways,” Allen shares. “Ultimately, water is all we have. It facilitates our very existence. It is why we are here on this tiny blue planet. My hope is that my artwork will inspire people to not only appreciate our watercourses but also think about how we can make them last for future generations.”
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