“The lifeboat drives on with a mercy which does not quail in the presence of death…a symbol that virtue and valour have not perished from the British race.” – Churchill
On this journey, I’m finding out that there are instances when everything seems to collide magically, as if conspiring to make a particularly powerful photograph…
Saturday 7th March was a truly glorious morning in Aldeburgh. I’ll never forget it, not least because it was the start of an idyllic day for the Project.
I’d arrived at the station a little early having already experienced the warm hospitality of the lifeboat crew the night before.
A gentle scout around the stunningly situated station occupied those moments, appreciating the cautious arrival of Spring on the coast — the breeze, the sounds and the skinny sunshine…
Now, I could write about so many things from that day. In particular, I’d like to tell you about the pristine station and the similarly immaculate boat housed within it. I’ll do that very soon.
For the moment, however, I shall focus on the making of a very special portrait — that of Steve ‘Tag’ Saint, the Aldeburgh RNLI Coxswain.
“You must be Jack!” were the first words I heard from Tag as he strolled along Crag Path to greet me.
The day progressed smoothly from there: The tea flowed freely as I recorded the view from the boathouse and then, around lunchtime, the crew.
Once the hubbub had calmed, Tag and I were able to relax into making his portrait.
As I mentioned, it was a Saturday and therefore pretty busy. All around us, members of the public were drawn to both the resplendent lifeboat and my old camera; they seemed to enjoy pausing for the theatre of the ancient photographic process.
Apart from answering the odd question here and there from passers-by, Tag and I soon found ourselves working in our own little bubble. We setup the camera at the stern of the glistening Mersey Class lifeboat, RNLB ‘Freddie Cooper’.
I asked Tag if he would sit for another plate and, true to form, he was more than happy to give up his time for me.
That said, I think it’s true to say that anyone involved doesn’t feel they’re doing it just for me — they’re doing it for themselves too, for us.
As I described in my last post, an understanding evolves that it’s in all our interests to work together to achieve the best possible result. There’s a silent knowing that if we work hard, the final photograph will be, in all likelihood, absolutely stunning.
At the very least, we all become driven by curiosity with an expectancy that the world is about to be enhanced.
So, Tag sat for several seconds as I exposed the second plate. I removed the plate holder from the camera and we made our way back to Neena to reveal the latent image waiting for us on the glass.
Tag looked over my shoulder under the safelight as I poured my beaker of developer over the milky emulsion. As the image appeared, I mentioned that it was looking really good.
There’s a magical point in the process when, after development, the image is a blue-ish colour and negative in tone.
The plate is no longer light sensitive at this stage, so I usually open Neena’s door for some daylight in readiness for pouring fixer over the plate — liquid that washes away the unexposed silver.
At this point, truly like magic, the fixer switches the developed image from negative to positive before your very eyes in just a few seconds.
I opened Neena’s door and poured fixer over the plate. A few seconds later, Tag and I were speechless, aghast at what had appeared before us…
The plate looked simply beautiful with the fixer still slooshing over it.
Somehow, the artefacts of the process seemed to dance around the edges of the plate, as if making way for the portrait itself.
In that moment, above all, I’ll always remember Tag’s eyes piercing through the liquid and his scarf blowing in the breeze.
When I look at those eyes, I can’t help but think of Churchill’s words about the lifeboat service right at the top of this page.
In this plate, the process has brought something else to the party and recorded something intangible — almost indescribable; a something that is the special combination of humility, generosity and bravery experienced at every single lifeboat station so far on this journey.
It is the very essence that answers why and how the lifeboat is able to drive on “with a mercy which does not quail in the presence of death”, captured right behind those eyes in this one glass plate.
It was clearly a moving experience for Tag too. I put the plate into a tray of water and moved it onto the beach where he kneeled for quite some time, entranced by this new object in his life…
50 LIMITED EDITION PRINTS
If you’re reading this, you’re among the first to know that I’m releasing all five limited edition prints from Aldeburgh right here in this blog post, including the portrait of Tag.
Print No.1 of the edition is already assigned to the man himself — the rest are now available here:
CAN YOU HELP?
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.
Print sales, pre-orders and contributions keep The Lifeboat Station Project on the road. If you think the world is a better place for the photographs I’m making, please consider showing your support:
My heart-felt thanks to the entire crew and staff at Aldeburgh Lifeboat Station for being so generous, accommodating and for making me feel at home.
Special thanks to Tag, James Cable, Karl Barber and, of course, George.