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‘Victorian’ photographer’s lifeboat station visit

Photographer Jack Lowe - a man and his camera - Photos: Hans J Marter/ShetNews

A PHOTOGRAPHER documenting all 237 RNLI lifeboat stations in the manner the Victorians would have done has arrived at the Aith outpost in time for the Simmer Dim.

Eighteen months ago Jack Lowe embarked on a five-year project that will see him capturing all of the lifeboat stations, their volunteer crews and individual portraits on 12×8-inch glass plates.

After visits to Wick as well as to the three Orkney lifeboat stations at Longhope, Stromness and Kirkwall, the 40 year old – who is from Newcastle – arrived in Shetland at the weekend.

In Aith on Monday, Lowe was busy setting up his gear and discussing frames and angles with lifeboat coxswain Hylton Henry.

The photographer described his Lifeboat Station Project as combination of childhood dreams and professional passions triggered by a “midlife correction”.

“I have been working in my previous job for 12 years,” Lowe said, “and it became clear to me that I wanted a new challenge, and doing something special.

“I wanted to follow my heart but it took two years to work out the idea. In a waking moment it dawned on me that it was right under my nose all along: combining my passions of photography, the sea and the lifeboat.”

He said the key element for him was participation, and that’s why he spends some considerable time at every lifeboat station, getting to know the crews and the communities that support the volunteers.

“The process dictates that I have a mobile dark room facilities (a decommissioned NHS ambulance) with me,” he said, “because the whole process from start to finish needs to be completed within a 10 to 15 minutes window.

Jack Lowe preparing to capture Aith lifeboat coxswain Hylton Henry on glass.

“The process unlocks participation. It is the key to sparking people’s imagination.

“Seeing the image appear on the glass just takes people by surprise; it moves them to tears, sometimes, and they realise that have been part in something really special. They have been immortalised on glass.

“It is a process that doesn’t require software, so in 50 or in 100 years, if you got eyes, you can see this beautiful one-off photograph.”

Lowe is using a 110 year old Edwardian camera but the “wet plate collodion” process he uses for his photography dates back to the mid 19th century.

With just over 60 stations visited Lowe is about a quarter through his venture.

He said that having managed to reach the most northerly station he feels as if he is “making headway and getting somewhere with this enormous task”.

Once completed a book documenting the five-year long journey will be produced and an exhibition is planned.

The project is of massive significance to the RNLI, evidenced by the presence of lifeboat institution press officer Joanna Quinn, who had travelled to Aith from the charity’s headquarters in Poole, on the south coast of England.

“As far as I know it is the first time that every single lifeboat station and every single lifeboat crew have been photographed contemporaneously at the same time,” she said.

“It will be an incredible record of our volunteers and of our boats captured just before our 200th anniversary and, no doubt, it will last for hundreds of years to come.”

Coxswains Henry and John Robertson took in the whole spectacle in their usual laidback manner.

The project can be followed online at www.lifeboatstationproject.com  and through regular social media updates, mainly via Facebook and Instagram.


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