Jack Reaches the Half Way Point on His Epic Mission to Capture All RNLI Stations
In January 2015, Jack Lowe began his attempt to visit all 238 stations on the RNLI network to photograph them using Wet Plate Collodion, a Victorian process that creates stunning images on glass.
At the end of this week, after a memorable four years, he will reach the half way point at Dover Lifeboat Station.
This major landmark comes just as the RNLI has announced that Jack’s work will feature in a major exhibition, ‘Calm before the Storm: The Art of Photographing Lifeboats’, in 2019.
Since he began The Lifeboat Station Project, Jack has photographed over 2000 RNLI volunteers – and around a dozen dogs, who are often included if their owners are on the crew.
Jack, who lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, travels in ‘Neena’, a decommissioned NHS ambulance purchased on eBay and converted into a mobile darkroom.
When he reaches Dover, he will have been to 120 lifeboat stations and created images on over 1500 glass plates. Making his images has taken 120 litres of developer and 45 litres of collodion.
He’s driven over 28,000 miles, which is more than once round the world, and used about 8400 litres of fuel – and stayed at more than 100 B&Bs!
He and ‘Neena’ have also taken to the water, travelling by ferry to some of the furthest outposts of the RNLI, including Aith in Shetland, the most northerly station, and St Mary’s in the Isles of Scilly. The latter was an especially nerve-wracking journey for Neena, who had to be winched onto the cargo deck.
In the meantime, Jack has been featured in the national press; gathered nearly 30,000 followers on social media, and seen his work exhibited at the National Library of Wales, The Perth Museum and The Great North Museum. He’s also made portraits of the RNLI’s Chief Executive Paul Boissier and its Chairman Stuart Popham, and given talks at venues as diverse as the Apple Store in Covent Garden and The Highland Council in Inverness.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. This time last year, after Jack had completed his 100th station, Valentia in Ireland, he revealed to his social media followers that he was struggling to keep going. His struggles were physical, emotional and financial – as the Project is largely self-funded.
Since then, he has discovered the crowd-funding platform Patreon that allows people to support him by contributing a monthly amount, starting from a few pounds a month. This support has allowed him to continue his work on a more secure financial footing.
Jack said: “Ultimately, I’m honoured beyond words to be making this archive. It’s a privilege spending time with so many lifeboat volunteers, preserving their bravery and devotion for future generations.
“This journey is unprecedented in so many ways. The further I travel, the deeper the body of work becomes on just about every level and in ways that I could never have foreseen or imagined.
“When looking at a freshly-made crew portrait last year, a lifeboat volunteer said to me, 'We look like those heroes of old'. I replied, 'That’s because you’re the same people.' The Project closes the circle of photographic history and gives these unsung heroes a fresh spring in their step and a sense of renewed pride.”
Dover Coxswain James Clapham said: “We feel sincerely honoured that Jack will be marking his half way point at Dover station with our volunteer crew. We wholeheartedly support and value Jack’s efforts and wish him every success on the rest of his journey capturing the RNLI volunteers around the country.”
RNLI Chief Executive Paul Boissier said: “Jack’s work is not only an artistic triumph, but a fantastic way in which to raise awareness of the RNLI through this unique imagery. His extraordinary journey has touched the hearts of many and will be remembered for years to come both as a captivating story and through the stunning images that will be his legacy.”
West Mersea RNLI crew member Leafy Dumas was one of the first women to be photographed by Jack. She says: “It was a big honour to be included in Jack's Project - to be a part of his grand vision.
“His camera was so fun. The important thing for me was that he was using something that you would normally expect to see gathering dust in a museum - and not just using it, but using it magnificently and with great success, making photographs with more depth and meaning than anything I've seen before.
“I had to stand stock still for a good few seconds which seemed a very long time - it was freezing cold, we were blasted with violent rain squalls and I wobbled during the exposure. I am so sorry for that. I think Jack was in his shirtsleeves the whole time!”
Leafy added: “The Project is a heroic endeavour on an epic scale and will be treasured for years to come.”
The Lifeboat Station Project is one of the biggest photographic projects ever undertaken and, when finished, will be the first complete photographic record of every RNLI station.
When Jack visits a lifeboat station, he makes the portraits using a camera made in 1905, and then develops the images in Neena. The volunteer lifeboat crew members are able to step into the ambulance and watch as their portraits appear on the glass plates – an experience Jack says they find fascinating, and sometimes very moving.
Jack began drawing up plans for the project over two years before it began. He says he has always had an interest in the history of photography: “The word photography means drawing with light and that is how I think about it still. I adore photography in this very raw, basic form — light falling on chemicals. It really is magical – the final image is always a surprise, even to me.”
Jack, grandson of Dad’s Army actor Arthur Lowe, also an avid RNLI supporter, said: “My early childhood was spent on a Victorian schooner in Ramsgate harbour and on the Thames. My Dad is an experienced seafarer and introduced me to the wonders of lifeboats – these incredible, powerful pieces of kit designed for heroic, lifesaving missions on stormy seas.
“From an early age, I knew that I wanted to be a photographer and lifeboat volunteer when I grew up. Now I’m following my heart and uniting the two dreams. I’m using a photographic technique developed in the 1850s, around the time that the RNLI was incorporated under Royal Charter.”
Follow Jack’s RNLI photographic mission on Instagram (@lordlowe), Facebook (fb.com/LifeboatStationProject), on Twitter (@ProjectLifeboat) or on the Project’s dedicated site (http://lifeboatstationproject.com).
Notes to Editors
The media are invited to join Jack at Dover Lifeboat Station from 10am to 2pm on Friday 28th September.
There will be a presentation from the crew at midday and the opportunity to interview Jack and RNLI crew, and to see Jack at work.
Many more of Jack's images are available through the RNLI Press Office and a downloadable RNLI film about the Project is here: https://vimeo.com/187357213
Contact RNLI Public Relations on firstname.lastname@example.org/ 01202 336789.
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.