An ‘Oarsome’ Celebration to Mark the Halfway Point of Jack’s Epic Journey
After four years of hard work, Jack Lowe reached the halfway point of his mission to photograph all 238 stations on the RNLI network on glass at Dover Lifeboat Station today (Friday September 28).
The volunteer lifeboat crew presented him with a hand-finished oar made by Second Coxswain Jon Miell to mark the special occasion.
Dover Coxswain James Clapham said: “We feel sincerely honoured that Jack will be marking his halfway 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.”
Jack said: “Throughout the course of this year, the size of the task in hand has become really apparent, and to reach the halfway point feels like an emotional landmark on my journey. The lifeboat volunteers at Dover have recognised this and really thrown themselves into making this a special occasion for me, which has been very touching. I'd like to thank everyone who has taken part in the journey so far – I couldn't have done it without you.”
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.
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’ — his decommissioned NHS ambulance purchased on eBay and converted into a mobile darkroom.
He’s been to 120 lifeboat stations and created images on over 1500 glass plates. He’s driven more than 28,000 miles, which is more than once round the world, and used about 8400 litres of fuel.
Making his images has taken 120 litres of developer and 45 litres of collodion – not to mention more than 100 B&B breakfasts!
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 over 28,000 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 Convent Garden and The Highland Council in Inverness.
And the RNLI has just announced that Jack’s work will be featured in a major exhibition, entitled ‘Calm before the Storm: The Art of Photographing Lifeboats’ in 2019.
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.”
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.”
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.
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
A downloadable RNLI film about the Project and further images are available here: https://rnli.org/news-and-media/2017/january/20/capturing-all-237-rnli-stations-using-victorian-photography-and-an-ambulance
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, in a normal year, 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.