Unique Photography Exhibition Celebrating RNLI Past and Present Opens

Lifeboats News Release

Tonight saw the opening of a ground-breaking new RNLI photography exhibition at Poole Museum.

RNLI/Nathan Williams

RNLI ambassador Ant Middleton joins Poole crew at exhibition launch

Calm Before the Storm: The Art of Photographing Lifeboats is a new exhibition of over 80 photographs revealing the past and present of the life-saving charity.

Over 100 guests attended a private view at the Museum to mark the opening, including RNLI Ambassador Ant Middleton, star of SAS Who Dares Wins; powerboat champion Shelley Jory Leigh, and the Mayor of Poole Sean Gabriel.

Also at the event were Charles Hunter-Pease, former RNLI chairman; Wilbert Smith, member of the HLF South West committee, and many volunteer lifeboat crew from around the coast, including Poole Coxswain Jon Clark, Weymouth Coxswain Andy Sargent, Aldeburgh Coxswain Steve Saint and Dover Coxswain Jon Miell. Many of the crew attending were able to see their own portraits on the wall of the galleries.

There are 85 striking images on show at the Museum, spanning over nearly 100 years, which have all been taken on glass plates.

These include lifeboat images from the archive of the famous Beken family in Cowes – a family of photographers who captured maritime life around the Isle of Wight since the turn of the century.

The exhibition was made possible with the support of both the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Christopher Andreae and The Scorpion Trust. This backing enabled the RNLI to preserve and digitise the Beken glass plate negatives.

Volunteers were brought into the charity’s headquarters in Poole, Dorset, to clean, scan and repackage the fragile glass plates. They also carried out valuable research on the images, in particular exploring the histories of individual lifeboats.

Nerys Watts, Head of HLF South West, said: “Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, we’re delighted to support this project which will provide a fascinating glimpse into our maritime heritage – from coastal communities to crews at sea. As well as ensuring the survival of this unique collection, this project will give people of all ages the opportunity to get involved in exploring their heritage.”

The second floor gallery is also full of beautiful glass plate imagery of lifeboats and lifeboat crews, but from an inspiring modern day odyssey called The Lifeboat Station Project.


The eight-year mission, which is the brainchild of photographer Jack Lowe, began in January 2015. Jack is visiting all 238 RNLI lifeboat stations in the UK and Republic of Ireland to capture them using Wet Plate Collodion, a Victorian process that creates stunning images on glass. The exhibition at Poole Museum is the biggest showing of Jack’s work so far.

Michael Spender, Museum and Arts Manager for the Borough of Poole, commented: “We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to work in partnership with the RNLI and Jack Lowe in hosting this inspiring exhibition. With its close proximity to the sea, maritime collections and stories of local history we feel that Poole Museum is a very fitting setting to display these iconic images of lifeboats and their crews. It’s also a first for us to be staging a photography focused show and a fantastic addition to our developing temporary exhibition programme.”


Hayley Whiting, RNLI Heritage Archive and Research Manager, said: “Having the Beken images on display at Poole Museum is a wonderful opportunity to showcase our heritage. This exhibition, in the home of the RNLI, is a window into our proud history, telling stories of innovation, sacrifice and bravery. We hope many people will come and see this exciting exhibition of unique images which have rarely been seen before.”


Joe Williams, RNLI Project Officer, said: “This evening is the culmination of months of work, much of it done by a team of brilliant heritage volunteers. As a result of their efforts cleaning and digitising the Beken glass plate collection, we’ve been able to open up this resource to a wide audience. Importantly for an externally-funded project, we have been able to engage the Poole community with the project and are thrilled to have Beken images displayed as part of this exhibition.”


Photographer Jack Lowe said: “This is the first time so many of the photographs from my journey have been on display and seeing this exhibition come to fruition has taken me aback. As I look around the gallery, I’m so moved by the body of images, the memories behind each one, and the stark reminder of the RNLI volunteers' extraordinary commitment to saving lives at sea.

"Without those people and the support they have given me, there’d be no story to tell. And, for that, I thank them from the bottom of my heart. I really hope the public enjoy the exhibition and walk away with a spring in their step, reminded that the RNLI will be there for them whenever they’re needed.”



Calm Before the Storm: The Art of Photographing Lifeboats will be on display at Poole Museum from January 26 to April 22 2019. Entry is free.

Jack Lowe will be at the museum to give a talk about his work on April 20.

Notes to Editors:

For more information about the Heritage Lottery Fund/ Beken Project go here: https://rnli.org/about-us/our-history/calm-before-the-storm-exhibition

A full press release about The Lifeboat Station Project with downloadable film is available here or go to the Project website here: https://lifeboatstationproject.com/.

For more information about the Beken family go here: https://www.beken.co.uk/


RNLI/Nathan Williams

Poole crew Suzie Jupp and Anne Millman with their portrait by Jack Lowe

RNLI/Nathan Williams

Poole coxswain Jon Clark with his portrait by Jack Lowe

RNLI/Nathan Williams

Jack Lowe, Michael Spender, Joe Williams and Hayley Whiting at the launch

RNLI/Nathan Williams

Poole Museum and Arts Manager Michael Spender launches the exhibition

RNLI/Nathan Williams

Aldeburgh Coxswain Steve Saint with his portrait

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 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.

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Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or by email.