Just a Black Box…

This morning I posted these words on my Instagram feed. It seems appropriate to share them here too…

This Sunday, here’s a thought to consider on photography:

As I’m about to make a photograph, I remove the ground glass screen (used for composing and focussing the image).

Just before I fix the plate holder to the camera, as in this case at Southwold Lifeboat Station, this is what I see:

The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe

Frighteningly simple, isn’t it?

It’s just a black box and a lens. That’s all cameras are…black boxes and a lens. Truly.

When I travel on my missions, I just use this camera and one lens; my lens cap is my shutter – I count elephants in my head when I’m making an exposure (have you seen Gregory’s Girl?).

As there are no equipment choices to make, my mind is free to concentrate on making the best photograph I can with what I have.

So many people confuse ‘cameras’ with ‘photography’. I’m afraid I cannot have camera conversations like “So, are you a Canon man or a Nikon man?”

It actually makes me shudder.

Cameras do not make you a better photographer…you make you a better photographer.

You can have all the pixels and knobs and buttons in the world. It might have cost you £2000 but, unfortunately, it will not make you a better photographer.

Q: So, what will?

A: Other good photography!

Buy good photo books. Old ones. New ones. Immerse yourself in them. You’ll find out what you like and what you don’t like and, I promise, you’ll become an infinitely better photographer in no time…


With that in mind, why not pop over to see what I’ve been up to with my black box and lens at The Lifeboat Station Project?

I’d love you to join me…

The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe


Jack Lowe:

Happy New Year, one and all! I trust that you’ve had a peaceful and enjoyable festive break?

At the start of 2015, after a long time in the planning, I find myself at a crux in my life: In just 10 days, I start The Lifeboat Station Project.

I’m excited and terrified in equal measures…

Originally posted on The Lifeboat Station Project:

As many of you will already know, particularly those who follow my Instagram feed, The Lifeboat Station Project has been a fair while in the thinking and planning.

The main reason, you see, is that my mission ahead is not as straight forward as it could be.

The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe

In the modern era, I could quite easily have grabbed a digital camera, captured the images on a cluster of memory cards and then sat in front of a computer for weeks prettying them all up.

However, you’ll also know by now that I’m not making this extraordinary body of work like that at all. I’m making the photographs on 10×12″ glass, just as the Victorians used to.

So, I’ve had to take great care in many ways — from liaising with the RNLI to ensure that they’re happy to receive Neena at every station to working out methods of safely transporting so much glass whilst on…

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Then I must make your portrait…

I told this story a few days ago on my favourite social medium, Instagram.

It received a great response, so I thought I’d tell it here too:

I’ve been working a lot on the finer details of my wet plating technique lately.

I had a beautiful afternoon tinkering on Sunday, testing my tweaks and refinements on 12×10 inch glass plates as I move ever-closer to starting The Lifeboat Station Project.

My friend and neighbour, Carole, came wandering round the corner, shopping bags in hand.

She’s very loving and enthusiastic, is Carole.

“Look at you!” she said, “…in your apron, creating wonderful things.”

“Ah, thank you, Carole. Anyway, how are you?”

She replied, “My brain tumour’s back. I’m dying now. I can feel it. It’s time for me to go.”

Obviously, that took me aback. I gave Carole a kiss and a hug and I could only think to say one thing:

“Then I must make your portrait.”

She told me she would adore that. So that’s what we did.

It was a beautiful moment and the kind that seems to keep happening in and around this process.

It engages people and that’s what I love about it. And that’s what I also love about photography…

12x10 inch Ambrotype of Carole, Newcastle upon Tyne, 23rd November 2014

12×10 inch Ambrotype of Carole, Newcastle upon Tyne, 23rd November 2014

Sunday 15th November 2015

I’m so sad to hear that Carole died in the night, almost a year since we shared this precious moment together.

Unfortunately, the photograph above is the only record of this plate as it was irreparably damaged whilst being washed afterwards — a photograph that turned out to be as ephemeral as life itself.

Even though we didn’t see each other so often, I’ll miss our colourful neighbour very much.

She was a truly special person, a character who really brought something to the party and enhanced the world for all who knew her…

Jude, Glencoe

wet plate collodion process, tintype, large format

Jude, Glencoe, Scotland (10×12″ Tintype)

The intimidating valley sides of Glencoe, Scotland, form the backdrop to ten seconds in the life of my younger son, wrapped up warm on a blustery, rainy day.

Check out other new additions to the Gallery.

The Midges that Died for Art

Last weekend — what with it being the summer holidays an’ all — I thought it would be fun to concoct an impromptu camping/photography expedition to Scotland with my younger son.

Stocked with food, chemicals and 110 year old cameras, we headed north from our home in Newcastle upon Tyne.

We had a ball, wild camping in Neena with wondrous sights aplenty…

Stag at Bridge of Orchy, Scotland

From Instagram: The sight that greeted us on our first night at Bridge of Orchy…

Thankfully, I had the foresight to pack insect nets and repellent; I’m all too aware of how the Scottish midge can turn a perfectly nice time into a humid, swarming trauma.

Sure enough, having settled down to make some photographs beside the stunning River Etive, clouds of the interminable bug descended as I poured my second plate.

At one point, I looked down at my gloved hands and I couldn’t see them — they’d literally come alive with a swarm of midges, looking like some kind of organic techno prop from a sci-fi movie.

It was time for a sharp exit but I had to finish making the plate before we could pack away and move on…

wet plate collodion process, tintype, large format

Glen Etive, Scotland (10×12″ Tintype), complete with embedded midges…

Pouring the 10×12″ Tintype, I was doing my best to keep the little critters from flying into the collodion.

Then it dawned on me — if I simply let them ‘do their thing’ I’d be making full use of this photographic process.

I’ve written before about capturing the weather in a glass plate. Now, I’d not only be creating a unique one-off photograph on metal, I’d also be capturing another important facet of the Scottish landscape — the midge!

Into the collodion they flew, ready for a lovely soak in a bath of silver nitrate. And so, it came to be that a handful of midges died in the name of art.

Now, to think of more ways to reduce their numbers…

wet plate collodion process, tintype, large format

The Midge: Dying for my art…

wet plate collodion process, tintype, large format

A tiny crop from the plate — not bad for a 110 year old Emil Busch brass lens!

For more recent work, check out the Gallery.

Neena, wet plate collodion process, ambulance, darkroom

From Instagram: Neena — mobile darkroom and bed for the night…

On the Telly

There’s excitement afoot but more on that later in the month.

In the meantime, whet your appetite with this short clip broadcast last night by the BBC Look North team. You’ll also discover why I made the Tintypes below…

Jack Lowe on the BBC

Click to see a short film on the BBC describing the beginnings of a new project…

Half Plate Tintype by Jack Lowe, wet plate collodion

BBC Look North reporter, Andrew Hartley, on a sunny day in Craster (Half Plate Tintype)

Half Plate Tintype by Jack Lowe, wet plate collodion

Tintype Selfie, lens cap opened for five elephants by assistant Robert (Half Plate Tintype)

Portrait of a Roundabout

Swan, Billy Mill and Cowgate — when strung together, these names could perhaps be mistaken for the title of an obscure new advertising agency.

Instead, if you ask a Geordie to name three roundabouts, I expect those are the names that would spring to mind first.

Hen, an old pal of mine, recently asked me if I’d make a photograph of Cowgate Roundabout, which lies at the northern end of Newcastle’s central motorway.

Even though it’s certainly a local institution, this could be perceived as a slightly odd request. There is, however, a simple reason behind it…

You see, when Hen was only fifteen years old, his father — Jimmy Henderson — passed away.

Jimmy used to work for Newcastle City Council and one of the only lasting relics of that time is his contribution to the construction of Cowgate Roundabout.

Hen even retrieved this treasured print of the construction crew, taken in the late 1960s just before work began:

The Cowgate Roundabout Construction Crew

The Cowgate Roundabout Construction Crew

Jimmy Henderson, one of the Newcastle City Council team who constructed the Cowgate Roundabout

Jimmy Henderson, smiling away in the middle of this crop…

It recently transpired that a £3m improvement plan has been given the green light — a plan that includes the removal of Cowgate Roundabout as we know it today.

With works due to start this summer and months of disruption ahead, it was time to get moving with our photograph of the site.

So, we mobilised Neena very early on Sunday morning. Our aim was simply to record the roundabout — usually extremely busy — in a peaceful state without any traffic.

In memory of Jimmy Henderson, our efforts resulted in this finished plate :

Cowgate Roundabout, Newcastle upon Tyne, shortly before its demolition.

Cowgate Roundabout — in memory of Jimmy Henderson. (Half Plate Ambrotype)

Behind the Scenes…

We made a lovely morning of it, not only loading Neena with the necessary photographic paraphernalia but also making sure we had a stash of fine coffee and treats.

Here are three of the images I shared on my Instagram feed at the time…

Jack Lowe on Instagram

Hen enjoying a coffee and pastry between plates. See the family resemblance with Jimmy, above?

Jack Lowe on Instagram

Standing in the doorway of my ambulance — a sentence I never thought I’d write.

Jack Lowe on Instagram

The vantage point.