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#Lifeboats - After almost four years, Jack Lowe will this week reach the halfway point of his epic ambition to photograph all 238 stations in the RNLI network when he visits Dover Lifeboat Station.

Since he began The Lifeboat Station Project in January 2015, Lowe has photographed more than 2,000 lifeboat volunteers — and around a dozen dogs, who are often included if their owners are on the crew — using wet plate collodion, a Victorian process that creates stunning images on glass.

And he produces his work on the road in ‘Neena’, a decommissioned NHS ambulance he’s converted into a mobile darkroom.

By the time he reaches Dover this week, he will have been to 140 lifeboat stations and created images on over 1,500 glass plates.

Making his images has taken 120 litres of developer and 45 litres of collodion.

He’s also driven over 28,000 miles, which is more than once round the world, and used about 8,400 litres of fuel – and stayed at more than 100 B&Bs.

This major landmark comes as the RNLI has announced that Lowe’s work will feature in a major exhibition, Calm Before the Storm: The Art of Photographing Lifeboats, in 2019.

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing.

This time last year, Lowe’s tour took him to Ireland, where he photographed the volunteers crews at stations along the South Coast from Waterford to Kerry.

After Lowe had completed his 100th station — Valentia in Co Kerry — he revealed to his social media followers that he was struggling to keep going.

His struggles were physical, emotional — and financial, as the project is largely self-funded.

But thanks to the support of fans of his work via the crowdfunding platform Patreon, Lowe was able to continue the project on a surer footing.

“Ultimately, I’m honoured beyond words to be making this archive,” Lowe said. “It’s a privilege spending time with so many lifeboat volunteers, preserving their bravery and devotion for future generations.

“This journey is unprecedented in so many ways. The further I travel, the deeper the body of work becomes on just about every level and in ways that I could never have foreseen or imagined.”

The Lifeboat Station Project’s dedicated website has links to Lowe’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds, as well as his Patreon campaign.

Published in RNLI Lifeboats

#RNLI - More than two years ago, Jack Lowe began an ambitious project to photograph every RNLI station with a Victorian-era camera.

Now, having already photographed 88 of the 238 lifeboat stations in these islands, Jack Lowe has finally arrived in Ireland.

Lowe, a photographer from Newcastle upon Tyne, is travelling around the UK and Ireland in a converted ambulance photographing RNLI lifeboat volunteers through a Victorian process that captures the stunning images on glass in whats one of the largest project’s of its kind ever undertaken.

Taking the Lifeboat Station Project to Ireland, the first RNLI volunteer crews he will visit include Dunmore East, Tramore and Helvick Head in Co Waterford; and Youghal, Ballycotton, Crosshaven, Kinsale, Courtmacsherry, Baltimore and Castletownbere in Co Cork; finishing up at Valentia in Co Kerry to mark his 99th lifeboat station.

“Believe it or not, this is the first time I’ve ever visited Ireland,” said Lowe. “I can’t wait to see the stunning coastline and meet the Irish lifeboat crews I’ve heard so much about.

“I am excited to see the results of this mission sitting alongside the glass plates I’ve been making in the UK. I’d been told there's a welcome like no other from the Irish and I’m already experiencing it after just two days.”

Completing the entire project is likely to take five years in total, and is set to be the first complete photographic record of every single lifeboat station on the RNLI network. Lowe expects reach the half-way point in 2018.

The photographer, grandson of Dad’s Army actor Arthur Lowe, is also an avid RNLI supporter. “My early childhood was spent on a Victorian schooner in Ramsgate harbour and on the Thames,” he recalls. “My dad is an experienced seafarer and introduced me to the wonders of lifeboats — these incredible, powerful pieces of kit designed for heroic, lifesaving missions on stormy seas.

“From an early age, I loved photography and lifeboats. Now I’m following my heart and uniting the two passions. I’m using a photographic technique developed in the 1850s, around the time that the RNLI was incorporated under Royal Charter. The photographs are made directly onto glass plates known as ‘ambrotypes’.”

When Lowe visits a lifeboat station, he makes the portraits using a camera made in 1905, and then develops the images in the mobile darkroom within his decommissioned NHS, named ‘Neena’, which he purchased on eBay.

The volunteer lifeboat crew members are able to step into the ambulance and watch as their portraits appear on the glass plates — an experience Lowe says they find fascinating, and sometimes very moving.

Lowe began drawing up plans for the project over two years before it began. He says he has always had an interest in the history of photography.

“The word photography means drawing with light and that is how I think about it still. I adore photography in this very raw, basic form — light falling on chemicals. It really is magical – the final image is always a surprise, even to me.”

He adds: “There’s a small global community of people interested in using these old techniques. Everyone works in their own way – and you’re always learning as you go along. The chemicals are the original formulae from the 1800s.

“It took me a long time to figure out the logistics of transporting and storing glass plates. I have a box made for each station that holds ten sheets of 12x10 inch glass. Then when I get them back to Newcastle I scan them, varnish them and then place them into storage.”

Follow Jack Lowe’s RNLI photographic mission on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or on the Lifeboat Station Project’s dedicated site.

Published in RNLI Lifeboats

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