Heart of St. Abbs

In truth, this is not the most straight forward post for me to write. For the first time on the Project, I have found myself documenting a lifeboat station faced with imminent closure.

On 11th May, the RNLI announced that they’d taken the difficult decision to close St. Abbs Lifeboat Station as part of a review of the Northumberland and Scottish Borders coastline.

Like many, I was saddened to hear the news, as I’m all too aware of how lifeboat stations sit at the heart of coastal communities; St. Abbs is certainly no exception.

The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
The station sits on the Middle Pier of St. Abbs Harbour in Berwickshire, Scotland

It would be all too easy for me to shy away from writing about St. Abbs but, to my mind, this imminent closure is part and parcel of The Lifeboat Station Project’s journey.

Closures have happened in the past and I guess they’ll need to happen in the future; such a large and dynamic organisation as the RNLI will continually assess our coastline’s safety needs as it evolves and develops.

However, when a situation like this occurs, it’s undeniably tough for all those involved. Therefore, in the circumstances, I was very happy to receive an invitation from St. Abbs Lifeboat Station with the sentiment that they would very much like to be included in the Project.

They’d organised an impromptu Lifeboat Weekend over the Bank Holiday and wondered if that would fit into my plans.

Of course, I accepted the invitation and was privileged to be given the opportunity to make the photographs that you’ll see in this post.


As it happens, St. Abbs is a relatively short hop from my home in Newcastle-upon-Tyne — around 80 miles North along the coast, just inside the Scottish border. So, I was able to put a swift plan together and make my way to this stunning village with my old pal, Hen, who kindly came to help (his tenth station on the Project).

The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
St. Abbs would be the Project’s first Scottish lifeboat station…

We arrived early in the afternoon on Sunday 24th May and were soon chatting with the crew over an obligatory cup of tea — surely the true fuel of the RNLI.

As we found our feet, the unique nature of St. Abbs became clear with its craggy coastline, crystal clear waters and abundant wildlife.

To give us a better idea of the station’s extraordinary location, we were invited out to sea in their Atlantic 75 inshore lifeboat.

It’s been an unexpected bonus of the Project to be offered these opportunities and this was another that we seized without a moment’s hesitation.

Cruising over the waves with guillemots and kittiwakes darting all around, this was a treat — a feast for the senses — and one that will live long in the memory…

The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
St. Abbs Head, a true feast for the senses…

On our return, I felt there was time on such a glorious evening to make a plate or two of the boathouse.

I’m finding on my journey that a little bit of quiet time with the old photographic process I’m using is worth its weight in gold (or maybe that should be silver). It’s not only reassuring to check it’s working properly but, somehow, it also seems respectful; I never like to assume that it’ll just work for me.

Whenever complacency has inadvertently crept in — even if only a little — Wet Plate Collodion has a habit of giving you a little bite, a reminder of who’s boss; in many ways, much like the sea.

It’s a self-checking mechanism that has developed over the making of several hundred plates, a mechanism that seems to be serving me well…

The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
St. Abbs RNLI Boathouse

On the Sunday, we’d done as I’d hoped and found our feet with the situation and surroundings in St. Abbs, a process that I felt was key to making better photographs under such emotional circumstances.

The next day was glorious in every way — beautiful weather filled with memorable meetings, photographs and experiences…

The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
The view from St. Abbs RNLI Lifeboat Station, Monday 25th April 2015, 10×12 inch Ambrotype
The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
Alistair Crowe, Lifeboat Operations Manager, now in his 50th year of service to the RNLI…
The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
Paul Crowe (son of Alistair) and David Wilson, St. Abbs RNLI Helmsmen…
The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
With their station behind, the RNLI crew of St. Abbs recorded for posterity on 10×12 inch glass

LIMITED EDITION PRINTS

Just 49* limited edition prints from each of the St. Abbs plates are now available with a special opportunity to buy all six as a collection:

BROWSE PRINTS

* I am gifting Print No.1 of each of the six limited edition prints to the station as my own personal nod to their commitment for so many years.


A NEW DIMENSION: SOUND

For many years, I’ve been interested in sound recordings as well as photography, often pondering how I might combine the two.

To me, The Lifeboat Station Project is the ideal platform. There’s so much scope to record ambient sounds; to play them alongside the photographs and introduce an extra dimension to the viewing experience.

From an historical point of view, it also provides an opportunity to record local dialects, another facet of the British Isles that I find really intriguing.

St. Abbs became my first chance to experiment and start to put my ideas into action…

The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
Tinkering with sound…

O. Winston Link and Chris Watson have been big influences during this strand of thought. One day, perhaps I’ll come close to the theatre of the mind that they’ve been so expertly able to conjure.

After much deliberation as to how I might incorporate such an intriguing dimension without interrupting the main event, I committed to an entry-level approach.

You can listen to my early efforts on a brand new page entitled Tinkering with Sound.

Here’s one of them to whet your appetite…


A COMMEMORATION

If at all possible, rather then being a forum for the whys and wherefores of their closure, I’d like this collection of photographs to be viewed as a commemoration to the life and service of St. Abbs Lifeboat Station; a station that has diligently and selflessly served the RNLI and the seafaring community since 1911.


SUPPORT THE PROJECT

I’d like to thank all those who’ve supported the Project to this point — it’s truly moving to see so many of you recognising the value in the photographs I’m making.

Remember, although the RNLI are supporting me logistically, I’m currently raising the funding under my own steam — in essence, my own form of crowdfunding.

Find out how you can support The Lifeboat Station Project and help to keep it on the road:

Support the Project


The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
The view as we packed up Neena at the end of our two day visit…

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

My sincere thanks to the staff and crew at St. Abbs Lifeboat Station for accommodating us so warmly under such difficult circumstances.

Special thanks to Alistair Crowe, Ian Wightman and David Wilson; also to Bob Clay for his wonderful reminiscing and to Gus for sharing his fantastic collection of postcards and photographs.

It was a pleasure to meet you all and to make such great photographs together, creating a permanent record of your wonderful station.

A final mention of thanks to my old friend, Hen(derson), who has kindly given up so much time, thought and energy to the Project and helped me once again on the mission to St. Abbs.

4 Comments

  1. A moving post indeed Jack, you can hear the sound of the seagulls and the sea through yet more sublime images. I also love the colour I images particularly St. Abb’s coastline and night reflections of the sky. St Abb’s has a special place in my heart, Lily had her first proper walk there. So sad to hear the station is closing, another historical recording through your project! Jane

  2. Jack,this project with Neena just gets better and better. The Hexham group are having a day tomorrow with
    Thomas Joshua Cooper and I will try and show him what your project is all about.
    Yours, Gill

    • Thank you for your kind words, Gill. Enjoy your day with Thomas Joshua Cooper…! Best wishes to you and the Group, Jack

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