Pictura Gallery

Single Image Crush | Jon Tonks

November 9, 2022

Two girls walking towards the beach, with smoke billowing from volcanic Mount Yasur, Tanna

I admire this photograph for its matter-of-fact-treatment of an explosive subject. Mount Yasur erupts almost continuously, tossing out bombs from its core. As a midwestern American, the thought of sharing ground with a fuming active volcano is astonishing. This makes the casual gait of the figures on the path surprising to me. Their bearing suggests that the volcano’s tantrums are normalized on Tanna, as an hourly and dependable occurrence for the island’s citizens.

Jon Tonks
offers this pastoral view of the valley’s lava plain, covered in a democratic soft light, with every leaf in crystal detail. The eye travels from sage colored brush, past yellowed spiky palm fronds, to lush mounds of dark branches, and back to the furry mountainous forms. The volcano is tucked almost quietly behind all of these.

The photographer’s decisions here bring veracity to the story of the picture. Part of that comes from material choices, the gifts of a well-exposed piece of medium format film in a natural setting. More though comes from keenly attuned gut sensibilities, which lean towards subtlety, for how and when to frame an image. This photo, and the two girls out walking, help me feel for just one frame what it might actually be like to live near a mountain on fire.

-Lisa Woodward