Without an H

Photography from south-east Asia by Jon Sanwell

Jon vs. the volcanoes


One of the joys of travelling to a new place is getting up at stupid o’clock in the morning to take a look at something unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. And so it was that I rose at 2am (two hours before I went to bed) to make the trip to Mount Bromo, probably the best-known of the many volcanoes in Java. The trip began with a climb to the Penanjakan viewpoint for sunrise, before descending the hill into the low-lying clouds and walking across the Sea of Sand and then climbing up to the rim of the crater itself.


Sunrise view of Mount Bromo from Penanjakan hill.


Walking across the ‘Sea of Sand’ to the volcano



One thing I wasn’t prepared for was the noise coming from the crater, a constant, angry rumble.


If I ever open a pub, I’m going to call it the Horse and Volcano.

*     *     *     *     *


It really is that colour.

A couple of days later, after a similarly early start and another pre-dawn climb, I found myself looking out over the extraordinary, otherworldly turquoise sulphur lake in Ijen crater as the sun rose behind me. Choking fumes filled the air, as wandering tourists and photographers crossed paths with tough, hard-working sulphur miners.


A sulphur miner takes a well-earned rest.


Not the surface of Mars, but it could be.


These two volcanoes, Bromo and Ijen, are among the most-visited sites in Java, but that doesn’t make them any less extraordinary to see, especially if, like me, you’ve never set eyes on an active volcano before. Memorable sights don’t necessarily make for compelling photographs, however, and I don’t think these pictures are among my best. I struggle sometimes, when faced with much-photographed locations like these, to make photographs that offer anything different to what’s been done before. I think these pictures give a decent idea of what these places look like, but don’t quite capture what they felt like. That doesn’t really detract from my memories of these early morning visits, but I’ll remember Bromo and Ijen more for the experiences than for the photographs.

12 Responses to “Jon vs. the volcanoes”

  1. bluebrightly

    Your comments about photographing well-known places are so apt. Still, I found these photographs fascinating. I’m sure it was nothing like being there, with the noise and smells, the half-awake brain, etc. But the 2nd, 3rd & 4th photos are extraordinary to me, and the horse – that was a great moment to record, what an odd expression the horse seems to have. It’s interesting to see the sulfur worker and to imagine tourists crossing paths with people doing hard physical labor there. I went to a long-since finished volcanic mountain just this week – Mt. Rainier, here in Washington state. It’s a gorgeous place, nothing like this, yet there is something about being in these high, wild places that is so moving. One never feels like much of the feeling comes across, I know.
    Still, very worth it. Thank you for posting! And getting up at 2am!

  2. corneliaweberphotography

    Thank you so much for sharing your amazing pictures, I am in wow. I was wondering what sulfur miners do, what is their work? It seems like a very hard working and exhausting job, probably paid very little, working under those circumstances inhaling all those fumes.

    • Jon Sanwell

      Yes, it’s unbelievably tough work, for very little reward. I really don’t know how they cope with the fumes – I was only there for a short time and had a gas mask, but still felt nauseous. Those big yellow chunks of raw sulphur are broken down and used to purify sugar at nearby factories, and to make soap and explosives.

      • corneliaweberphotography

        Thank you so much Jon for your response and educating me about the use of sulphur. Purifying sugar, making soaps and explosives sounds like a scary use to me.

  3. rinamala

    This are incredible photos of an amazing place – thank you for sharing your art and reflections.

  4. Alison and Don

    I love your images. It may be different when you look at them (and I find this with my own photography – I hope my images capture something of the feeling but I’m never quite sure) but for me you’ve captured a mysterious beautiful place that I would love to see for myself.

  5. Dalo 2013

    Surreal photos Jon, fantastic. Nothing like finding an opportunity to experience and adventure…very cool.


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