“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 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.
The Lifeboat Station Project is Jack Lowe’s 8 year mission to photograph all 238 RNLI lifeboat stations on glass, relying on the support of his online community to keep it on the road.
After 150 stations and over 5 years working on the coast, Jack’s station visits came to an abrupt pause when the Prime Minister announced the first social distancing restrictions on 16th March 2020.
Read more about what happened here.
The Lifeboat Station Project remains Jack’s full-time occupation and he’s eager to return to the coast as soon as restrictions allow.
In the meantime, there’s still plenty to follow and digest on these pages — read on to learn more…
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.
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 his community of supporters and sales through the online shop to help keep him going.
Learn about all the ways you can support the project here:
BECOME A SUPPORTER
Using a process known as wet 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 the Coxswains and helms, the women, mechanics and, of course, the crews.
VISIT THE GALLERIES
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 via the Mission Map, newsletter and Twitter.
SIGNUP TO THE NEWSLETTER
YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED