“I never embarked in any one thing to which I have so entirely devoted myself, and to which I have devoted so much time, thought, and labour, and on the success of which I have staked so much reputation, and to which I have so largely committed myself and those who were disposed to place faith in me.” — Isambard Kingdom Brunel
The Lifeboat Station Project is a documentary project about the lifeboat volunteers, for the lifeboat volunteers.
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is the incredible charity of brave volunteers who save lives at sea in the UK and Ireland. Amazingly, the organisation has been entirely funded by voluntary contributions for nearly 200 years.
Photography has been in Jack Lowe’s blood since he was a young boy. Aged 8, he received a Kodak Instamatic camera from his grandmother, a turning point from which he’s never looked back.
The earliest seeds of this project were sown in Jack’s childhood, when his love for lifeboats began. Much later in life, after a career in photography, Jack found himself searching for a change in direction — something that would take him away from sitting in front of computers all day!
He considered what he felt most passionate about and wrote these words on a piece of paper:
That scrap of paper — along with a lot of thinking, dreaming and planning — led Jack to the idea of travelling to all 238 RNLI lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland to photograph them, in order to preserve a vital aspect of our island nation’s culture for generations to come.
And there’s a twist! Jack works as the Victorians used to, making the photographs on glass from his mobile darkroom — a decommissioned ambulance called Neena.
By visiting every RNLI Lifeboat Station in the UK and Republic of Ireland, Jack is creating an unprecedented archive, preserving a vital aspect of our island nation’s culture for future generations. The Project is the first time anyone has tried to create a complete photographic record of every single RNLI lifeboat crew, so it will have enormous historic significance.
The photographs will ultimately be showcased in a stunning exhibition and book, both of which are set to be huge fundraisers for the RNLI.
The Lifeboat Station Project is currently scheduled to be completed in 2022. A selection of the work has already been acquired for a National Collection.
WHO’S BACKING THE PROJECT?
Jack hasn’t been commissioned to make The Lifeboat Station Project. It’s an idea he came up with in 2012 and one that he believes in so strongly that he’s simply got on with it, relying on print sales and his supporters to help keep him going — in essence, his own form of crowdfunding.
150 lifeboat stations and over five years later, Jack relies on the support of those who love following the journey and appreciate what it takes to keep it on the road.
Find out how to become a supporter including two ways to make a monthly pledge:
Using a process known as Wet Plate Collodion, Jack is crafting unique photographs on glass, capturing the view from each station and the waters protected by the RNLI crews.
As well as the view from each station, he also makes photographs of each Coxswain, the Helms, the crew and — when time and resources allow — the women and mechanics.
Jack’s ultimate vision is to show the photographs in geographical order around a huge gallery; as the audience stands in the middle of the venue and looks around, the sensation of seeing the entire coastline of the UK and Ireland captured on glass will be extraordinary.
Each glass plate — known as an Ambrotype — is a beautiful standalone artwork. However, the true glory of such an endeavour will be realised in bringing around 1000 photographs together as one exhibition.
His audio recordings will accompany the photographs in the form of an epic soundscape, taking the audience on a sonic coastal journey too.
Never one to think small, Jack would love a high-profile London venue to house the work — somewhere large enough to accommodate an RNLI all-weather lifeboat as a centrepiece along with Neena (his mobile darkroom) so that people can see where the photographs were made.
As part of his contribution to the RNLI community — and in exchange for their help on the day — Jack gifts each station two limited edition prints: Print No.1 of the crew photograph and Print No.1 of the Coxswain/Helm portrait.
TRACKING THE PROJECT
The Lifeboat Station Project began on 12th January 2015.
At some point on the journey, Jack will be coming to an RNLI Lifeboat Station near you!
Keep track of his movements on the Mission Map and via these Social Media channels: