“On the one hand, you make this art that will outlast anyone who sees it. And their children, and their children’s children. But on the other hand there is another representation and expression of your work that is incredibly transient and may only last days or weeks.”— Jeffery Saddoris in our latest conversation
I’ve needed some time to pass before writing this post, time to process thoughts and reframe expectations as I gradually get to grips with making the giant outdoor posters of my photographs that form the With Courage Exhibition — an expression of my work that is so very different to the original glass plates from which they’re derived.
With that in mind, I need to tell you from the outset that our second installation of the 8 metre wide Lucy Lavers poster succumbed to the weather after just a few days.
The conditions were almost ideal during the week of the installation right up until Friday 30th April, the morning I was due to leave. Very heavy rainfall woke me up at the crack of dawn and I later learned that 3/4 inch of rain had pelted from the sky in just two hours.
The poster seemed to have held up well at that stage, but the problems didn’t really arrive until the following week when 50mph winds and horizontal rain lashed the wall, clinically dismantling our hard-won efforts.
I was devastated when I received the news accompanied by this photograph from Wendy Pritchard, a friend and founding Trustee of Rescue Wooden Boats who’d helped us so much with our endeavours:
Wendy was upset about it too but we soon navigated our way to the beginnings of a better place.
After battling with even more extreme weather during our first attempt in September, it was becoming clear that I would need to reframe how I think about this new dimension to the project.
It wouldn’t be the same as the extraordinary permanence of my glass plates. Furthermore, I surely know by now that some of JR’s posters last just a few days or even hours depending on their location.
And what about ephemeral short-lived pieces by artists like Andy Goldsworthy whose photographs become the only record of the work created? Or the huge portraits in the sand to mark the centenary of the end of World War One? Or the 100 metre lifeboat in the sand on Scarborough beach?
Rather than imagining my posters as permanent pieces, it was time to think more along those lines and adjust my expectations accordingly.
IFS, BUTS AND WHYS
Like September, our second visit to Stiffkey wasn’t without its challenges.
Perhaps the most graphic and overt was the lichen on the wall. It had caused so many problems the first time round, not only proving extremely difficult to work with but also using up so much paste.
This time, I’d asked if the lichen could be washed from the wall ahead of our arrival. This was kindly carried out for us but, for a number of logistical reasons, only in the areas where the poster had been before.
The strange regular shapes left behind bothered me but I thought and hoped it would look less severe once the poster was up. I soon got used to them and the scene became normal but only until the end of the second day when Jetstream and I had just about finished installing the poster.
We stood back to admire our efforts. This should have been a jubilant moment but there was a flatness to our demeanour.
The poster itself looked great with our improved paste and technique but, in our heart-of-hearts, we knew it wasn’t quite right because of the remaining lichen.
That evening, after two long days’ work, I asked Jetstream what he felt about the nearly finished poster. He duly gave me his honest response:
“Well, I just don’t see the point.”
It was blunt indeed but I knew what he meant.
We’d come all this way and gone to a lot of time and expense to have a second go at this very tricky corrugated artwork.
I knew it could be so magnificent, yet it still wasn’t going to be right even now.
It was a sentiment that didn’t make for a good night’s sleep. At the very least, we all needed a final photograph to complete the occasion, enabling us to shout about it to all those who were rooting for us and had helped to make it happen.
I needed that Andy Goldsworthy moment to complete the picture.
As things stood, that wasn’t going to be possible. The scene looked too incongruous and it felt like our best hadn’t been good enough.
Then Wednesday dawned along with a visit from Will, the chap who had helped to clean the wall ahead of our arrival. He seemed excited to see the poster but as he walked up to admire it, I could see his reaction was similar to ours.
“The wall needs to be clean, doesn’t it?”
I looked towards him and quietly replied: “It does really, Will.”
“I can’t help you with it right now but I’m happy to lend you my pressure-washer and a tarpaulin to protect the poster.”
I won’t deny that it was a frustrating prospect. The tasks were all back-to-front and risked undoing all our hard work. Nevertheless, the opportunity was there and we simply had to make it right, whatever it took.
So, that’s what we did. As I stood on the staging, pressure-washer in hand, I knew that things were about to get messy.
And messy they got.
Despite our best efforts, there was no way of totally shielding the poster on such a tricky surface. All kinds of grot breached the tarpaulin but, to cut a long story short, we cleaned it up and Jetstream did an amazing job of re-coating the entire piece with fresh wheat paste.
While we cleaned our brushes and tidied away the pasting paraphernalia, the wall dried up and the poster baked onto it beautifully in the evening sunshine.
Then, out of nowhere, the moment I craved arrived. I looked up from my tidying tasks and saw what I’d imagined all along: the huge Lucy Lavers poster now looked glorious.
All the ifs, buts and whys had suddenly been removed and the point of persisting with this artwork was now clear to see — we had made another magnificent piece for folk to enjoy both in person and online amidst the bumpy landscape of the pandemic.
It was time to stand back and finally feel jubilant.
When news first start breaking on Twitter about the damage, I soon realised that I wasn’t going to have the luxury of time to wrap my head around it.
However, the adjustment was a much smoother, swifter process than I anticipated because people were so empathetic, offering all kinds of helpful ways to think about it.
Have a listen to my latest stateside chat with Jeffery Saddoris and you’ll hear us discussing it in quite some depth.
I found the conversation particularly helpful in working things through. In addition to the words at the top of this post, Jeffery ruminated:
“It’s the same photograph, arguably, but you can go visit that photograph each day for a week or two and watch it deteriorate and watch it evolve. Whereas, the plates, if you revisit them every ten years, they’re going to look exactly the same. So I think it’s really interesting how you have gone to the poles on the expressions of your art in terms of longevity and legacy.”
The true glory of the Lucy Lavers poster may have already been taken by the weather but it lives on in the footage, photographs and words of this blog post, and in the memories of those who saw it at the time. For those people, I hope it will now be all the more special.
Once again, with yet more lessons learned, our true reward is the story to tell.
For those who aren’t au fait with the full story, we pasted Lucy Lavers on the gable end of the Maritime Heritage Centre in Stiffkey because it is the home of Rescue Wooden Boats, the charity that restored this beautiful old lifeboat to her former glory.
Not only is her history archived within the building but she was restored just across the lane in Hewitt’s boatyard. So, imagine how wonderful it was to learn that she was sitting next door once again for some maintenance ahead of her new season on the water.
Of course, we couldn’t help but pay her a visit, not least as it was the first time that Jetstream had laid eyes on this special vessel.
If you’d like to find out more about Lucy Lavers’ history and her new life afloat, click here.
BONUS SOUNDSCAPE FOR MEMBERS OF THE LSP SOCIETY
Long-term fans of the The Lifeboat Station Project will know that I love audio as much as photography — after all, they are both methods of creating pictures in the mind.
So, once we’d installed the poster, Jetstream and I made our way to the neighbouring coastal path and marshes to make a soundscape.
The natural sounds were beautiful, with waders and gulls making themselves known. A stiff Arctic wind blew constantly from the north and the sea rumbled ominously some 2 miles in the distance. The large roaring waves formed a frothing white stripe on the horizon, like an army rolling towards us with great purpose and intent.
A third of the way through the recording, four women pass by for a swim in the freezing creek. Their banter stopped when they saw the microphones, apologetically shuffling by wearing silent grins instead. Towards the end, you can hear their whoops of joy and laughter weaving into the chattering of the birds. A proper night out all round.
Members of The LSP Society can listen to the recording now on the Members’ Audio page.
I offer full membership from just £1 per month for which you’ll receive instant unlimited access to the Members’ Area where there are all kinds of extra audio recordings, films and blog posts for you to enjoy.
You’ll also find yourself among a very special community of folk who’ve committed to the project because they believe in it just as much as I do.
Click/tap on this button to find out more:
or head to this page for all the ways to support the project:
…and if you can help me bring the With Courage Exhibition to your town, please drop me a line to get the ball rolling:
Thank you to: Wendy Pritchard, Simon Garnier and the Rescue Wooden Boats team for hosting us once again and allowing us to use their wall.
Thank you to all the friends, patrons and passers-by who offered logistical, nutritional and emotional support throughout.
Thank you to our friend Julian Calverley for lending an extra hand just when it was needed and for the excellent photographic record (including the picture of Jetstream and me pasting in the sunshine).
Of course, a special thank you to Jetstream for sticking with me through thick and thin yet again. I really couldn’t have done it without you!
Finally, thank you to everyone who sponsored this poster — you covered the cost of the materials, which is an incredibly special thing to have done.
Bravo, one and all!
Until recently, I’ve been asking “I wonder where the next poster will take us?” but I now have an exciting invitation for later in the year and who knows what else will come to fruition in the meantime…stay tuned on the usual channels!
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
In the mood for learning more? I answer some frequently asked questions about my project here:
1. If you enjoyed this post, please click the lifeboat orange heart below to say you were here and feel free to share your thoughts by commenting below.
2. If you think this would be of interest to others, please share it using the buttons below.
3. This is a public blog post — there’s much more to see in the Members’ Area of The LSP Society.
4. If you know somebody else who would enjoy being a member of The LSP Society, you can now gift them membership here!
5. If you haven’t perused the website for a while, head to the homepage for a fresh look.
6. Head to The LSP Shop for prints, posters, postcards, the famous With Courage keyring and more.
7. Finally, if you have any questions about my work, please feel free to contact me.
Beautifully written, as always. I really enjoyed the chat with Jeffery, but think your reflections have eclipsed it.
As for the actual eventsof which you write – well done on not throwing your toys out of the pram at the time. The poster may have succumbed, but the Jack Lowe spirit is as steadfast as ever!
Thank you, Vicki…very pleased to keep hold of my toys AND have a jubilant moment!
Jack I can’t imagine how it felt seeing your mother ch hard work get battered by the weather. I’m wondering what could be used to protect a display once it was finished, is there anything that could be put over similar to a coat of clear lacquer? Either way I enjoyed your post and wish you well
I’ve investigated the options and, as ever, it’s a balance. The moment we start to use protective lacquers, we move away from organic materials and that was one of the requirements for pasting on this 1938 building in a very ‘green’ area. I’ve even liaised with JR’s assistants. They’ve used varnishes but they interfere with the paste and the colour of the finished image in a different way. Basically, if the weather’s going to take it, the weather’s going to take it…particularly once it gets behind the troughs in those corrugations.
The next walls on our radar are brick and much more protected from the elements. Fingers crossed those plans comes together!