Jonah Allen is a master of movement. As an avid surfer, he’s watchful of the tidal routines—his body acquainted with the patterns of wave upon wave. As a musician, he holds deep within him an understanding of rhythm and beat, and the flow of music through a person’s being. And as a photographer, he encapsulates movement in a frame, a perfect balance of the beauty of nature and the human interpretation of it that results in magnificent, large-scale images of the ever-changing, always-moving coastal waters.
Jonah—originally from Atlanta, Georgia, and now a 30A local—has put to print the emotion that has long drawn visitors and lifelong residents to the Florida Gulf Coast. An accomplished photographer utilizing aerial views, in-water angles, and vistas from the shore, Jonah finds his art captures the nature all around him in a way that drives folks to experience nature themselves. His keen eye for the colors of the coastline has made his name a staple in the beachside communities of Northwest Florida and his work an essential expression of the feeling only those who have visited the region truly understand.
For the past 10 years, Jonah has been exploring his passion by utilizing the pristine waters of the Gulf, its rippling estuaries and dune lakes, and the soft white sands that surround them as both subject and muse. Each evocative photograph is made with great skill and a deep appreciation for the environment he captures.
While one will find his artwork perfectly accenting spaces throughout the 30A area, Jonah’s work has also found its way across the country and throughout the globe, in every place inspiring the viewer and eliciting the feelings that arise within the heart when one’s toes meet the sand and the surf.
“I could never put my camera down, I just couldn't,” says Jonah as he describes his longtime love of photography and the growth of his passion over time. “When you think about photography, it’s typically service-based: weddings and commercial photographs. It’s what the client needs. But that’s not what I felt called to. I’m fortunate enough to get to capture the images that I want to make.”
Jonah’s dad worked for an airline, allowing him and his family to travel the world. Inspired by the explorations of his youth and the pursuit of art, Jonah set out after college with a backpack, a surfboard, and some camera gear, chasing waves in the waters off the coast of Hawaii, Chile, Bali, and Peru.
It was through these experiences that Jonah found deep and lasting inspiration, and a calling to share with others the magic of the motion of the sea.
“It’s taken me a long time to figure out how to explain this love for water and how it correlates with photography,” says Jonah. “When I’m surfing, I’m harnessing energy in one of its strongest forms. Energy transferred when it travels thousands of miles and then it hits the shore. It energizes you.”
And while the wild nature of the ocean is felt in many of his photographs, the images are far from chaotic. Jonah’s work conveys a sense of ease and calm, which isn’t by chance or pure luck. The serenity embodied within his work represents an artist’s determination and his understanding of his subject.
Jonah continues, “When I’ve got my camera, I’m in the right place at the right time. I’m feeling these intense emotions, and my goal is to capture those emotions for others.”
Those emotions that he feels as he’s most connected with the water are captured in a flash, frozen in time, and packed with motion and movement on all sides. These images, and the experience behind them, end up gracing the walls of clients’ homes. And to Jonah, sharing that experience is essential to his work.
“I have two purpose-driven goals in my work,” says Jonah. “First, art is all about emotion. If my artwork can make you feel something, then I’ve done my job. Secondly, you can’t get people to care about something unless they see it firsthand. If my images inspire someone to go out to that body of water, or inspire someone to feel it, I’ve accomplished my goal.”
While Jonah captures images all over the Gulf Coast and beyond, he says most of the images are captured close to home. His house in Seagrove serves as his home base, and even in winter, Jonah takes to the water to capture the interplay between ocean and landscape and wildlife.
As part of growing his vision and pursuing his art form, this spring Jonah opened a studio about 10 miles from Alys Beach. Though only open by appointment, the space allows Jonah to display his work in a gallery setting of his own. He invites visitors and locals alike to walk through his collection with him. He works closely with buyers, even working to transform digital files into the perfectly-sized piece for a space and handling framing as well.
As for Alys Beach, the town and his residents have long recognized Jonah’s talent for capturing the crown jewel of the New Urbanist community. His work is displayed in the Beach Club in Alys Beach, in a local restaurant The Citizen, and upon the walls of Alys Beach homes. In all, the color and the texture complement the clean-white backdrop of Alys Beach, just as the Gulf does. Jonah's images are known for their large scale impact, whether on the printed and framed pieces within someone’s home or even projected on the entire face of a building, as he has done during the Digital Graffiti festival.
What’s next for this artist’s upward trajectory? His new book, Where Waters Meet, is available for presale this summer, and within its pages, Jonah captures the beloved waters of South Walton in his own, fully unique style.
“Most images in this book have never been seen. I’ve been photographing the junction of where the waters of the Gulf flow into coastal lakes. The images capture this moment on the coastline where water flows from light to dark brown and then into the blue-green gulf,” says Jonah.
With the backdrop of the Gulf awaiting him at home, Jonah plans to travel at least two months each year. A true artist seeking inspiration at every turn, wherever he goes, he’s certain to have his surfboard, his camera, and an energy about him, ready to connect with the motion and movement within the waves that have grounded him as an artist for years.