A stunning photographic tribute to the brave men and women of the RNLI goes on display

Professional photographer Jack Lowe is in the midst of a five-year project to document the extraordinary work done by the volunteers of the RNLI using Victorian photography techniques. And for the first time, some of his pictures are going on public display.

In the summer of 2015, Jack Lowe jumped behind the wheel of a converted ambulance and set off on a grand and ambitious project: to photograph all 238 active lifeboat stations around the coast of Britain and Ireland.

In three years Jack’s Lifeboat Station Project has visited 100 of the stations – you can see a map of which ones are left on his website. He hopes to be finished by 2021, but already his project has sparked a public exhibition. The National Library of Wales bought a number of his pictures last year, and they have just opened an exhibition which will run next March.

‘This is the first time my photographs have been recognised at a national level in this way,’ says Jack.

‘I dreamed it might happen one day but I never expected this kind of acknowledgement while in the midst of making the work.’

Jack Lowe RNLI photography project

The Lifeboat Station Project: 12×10 inch Ambrotype by Jack Lowe. New Quay RNLI Crew, Thursday 22nd September 2016

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To make the pictures into more than just snapshots, Jack turned his back on current technology, instead deciding to use Wet Plate Collodion photography. This Victorian method involves huge glass negatives measuring 12 inches by 10 inches, and needs a dark-room on hand almost immediately that the pictures have been taken – hence the converted ambulance, which Jack has nicknamed ‘Neena’.

The limitations of method are enormous – it needs temperatures between 16˚ and 24˚, apart from anything else – and he can only take about 10 pictures of each station. In an age when professional photographers routinely snap thousands of images a day to get  just the right picture, that’s almost unfathomable.

Jack Lowe RNLI photography project

The Lifeboat Station Project: 12×10 inch Ambrotype by Jack Lowe. Phil and Rob John sitting on their father’s memorial bench, Tenby RNLI lifeboat station, Monday 21st March 2016

All the compromises seem worth it when you see the results, however: the pictures are spectacular, almost magical, giving a real timeless quality to the volunteers.

‘This project is incredibly special to me. It’s hard to describe quite how much,’ Lowe told ybw.com when he got his project under way last year.

‘I’m turning childhood dreams into something meaningful, not just for me but for all those who come into contact with the project.’

Lowe added that he has ‘been humbled’ by the RNLI volunteers he has met: ‘That kind of sentence can trip off the tongue all too easily but it’s true. Their stories of rescues, their dedication to the task. It’s special. Incredible.’

Find out more about Jack’s odyssey at lifeboatstationproject.com and get more details about the exhibition at www.library.wales/visit/things-to-do/exhibitions/jack-lowe-the-lifeboat-station-project.