Time for the Flying Suit

My 10x12" camera being buffeted by the wind during a rehearsal at Tynemouth Lifeboat Station on Thursday.

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I’ve just finished making the necessary preparations ahead of The Lifeboat Station Project’s inaugural mission.

After its conception over two years ago, it’s hard to believe I’m writing those words.

In just a few hours, I’ll be on my way to Suffolk.

The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
My 10×12″ camera being buffeted by the wind during a rehearsal at Tynemouth Lifeboat Station on Thursday…

I’m excited, yes, more than I can describe. However, there’s another sensation I’m feeling. Terror.

You see, to get to this point with the Project, there’s so much at stake. I’ve already poured so much into it emotionally and financially.

Those friends, loved ones and followers who’ve seen the journey from the very start will have insight into the ups and downs throughout my learning, testing and preparations.

You’ll be getting the gist now that working with Wet Plate Collodion simply isn’t like modern day digital photography at all — it’s an emotional roller coaster of highs and lows as one conjures so many variables in the quest for a beautiful finished plate.

“So why do it?” I hear you ask.

Well, because the process of making photographs — unique one-offs at that — is, for me, the most extraordinarily rewarding experience.

Within a ten to fifteen minute window, to start with just a piece of glass and a box of chemicals; to create my own emulsion, sensitise, expose, develop and fix it; then to see a stunning photograph emerge full to the brim with soul, depth, wonder and a little bit of magic is simply breathtaking.

I mean that. Audible gasps by onlookers are frequent.

The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
Tynemouth’s Deputy Coxswain Dave Robinson holds his portrait on 10×12″ glass…

“So why the terror?”

Hmmm. That’s three-fold:

Firstly, I’m not a Wet Plate Collodion expert. Yet. I now have a fair amount of experience under my belt but the process still holds many mysteries for me.

I’m getting there and, thankfully, it’s now gathering pace. When I decide to learn something, I throw myself into it whole-heartedly and focus, focus, focus until I reach a point as near to perfection as I can.

It’s just my way.

The last time I started a similar learning process was fifteen years ago with digital imaging — but that’s another story.

I’ve been working with the Victorian photographic process intensively for just over a year now. So the terror lies in whether or not I can make all the elements of Wet Plate Collodion sing consistently over so many seasons, locations and occasions.

It’s a tall order but one that I sincerely hope and expect to honour.

Secondly, of course, there’s the fundamental requirement to put bread on the table. It’s all very well following my heart in creating The Lifeboat Station Project but I have to make it work on many levels.

The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
After a long instructive day with my friends at Tynemouth, it was time to pack up and head home…

Finally, there’s the personal side.

In the modern era, it’s easier than ever to project a desired persona; to give an edited impression of one’s life across the ether. In many instances, that’s a sensible approach particularly in business where it simply isn’t necessary to share particular details.

I’m certainly one of those people, a person who shows edited highlights of my life online. On this occasion, though, right at the beginning of this huge mission I think it would be pertinent to mention the equally huge change of life for our household.

What is it they say..?

“Behind every good man, there is a good woman.”

That is certainly true in my case in the form of my wife, Kath, not to mention my two teenage boys, Callum and Jude.

It’s the first time I can remember ever having been away from them for so long and that will surely bring its stresses and strains.

I will miss them all so much while I’m away.

However, it’s also important to explain that I’m not talking about the worst kind of terror. This is an excited terror; the kind that might be experienced by base jumpers as they step towards the cliff edge, knowing — yet hoping — that their carefully nurtured skills and equipment will carry them safely to the ground below.

So, as I step towards my own cliff edge after all the thought, negotiations, discussions and planning, the time has come to don my flying suit…

…and hope that it works.

I’d like to thank all those people who’ve given me love and support to this point. You know who who you are…



  1. Good luck this coming week Jack! Very excited to see the results and extremely excited to getting involved in helping “pour stuff” on the next tranche of stations! All the best!

  2. Good luck Jack, what an exciting and unique project. My husband, Jeff Bell, is a volunteer with the Larne Lifeboat. We look forward to your visit.

  3. Good luck with this project Jack. I know you will become the expert in this process that you aspire to be – and on completion what a sense of achievement you will have. Not only that but you are making an amazing record of the brave people who volunteer to risk their own lives to help those in distress at sea.


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