About Jack Lowe

Jack is a photographer working from his mobile darkroom (a decommissioned NHS ambulance) using the Victorian process, wet collodion. He is currently undertaking an extraordinary 8 year photographic mission — The Lifeboat Station Project.

That’s the Spirit

It’s been five years since I posted here. Five whole years. And what a journey I’ve been on in the meantime, quite literally.

Since last tapping some words on this blog (which I started over 8 years ago), I’ve visited 150 RNLI stations on The Lifeboat Station Project.

Once the restrictions are lifted — whenever that may be — I can’t wait to complete the remaining 88 lifeboat stations with renewed vigour.

A SPLENDID TORCH

After such an intense few years, and as we career into Lockdown 2.0, I’ve enjoyed the headspace to lift the dust sheets from these pages and breathe life back into them.

There are still a few tweaks to be made but things are mostly shipshape again.

Then came a timely tweet by Michael Warburton yesterday featuring a clip of Jeff Goldblum impressively reciting a quote by playwright and Nobel Prize winner, George Bernard Shaw:

Here’s the quote in full:


This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognised by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

GEORGE BERNARD SHAW

Magnificent, isn’t it?

The words really tap into a simple sentiment that I consider to be vital more than ever in times like these — the sentiment of community spirit.

To my mind, community provides hope and, with hope, we can function.

A READYMADE SYMPHONY

Like Michael’s tweet, George Bernard Shaw’s quote seems particularly timely as we settle into our next lockdown.

It had me thinking back to the last one and the weekly clap for carers ritual. It gave me goosebumps every time, making me think I really must record this.

So, on the fifth Thursday at 8pm, I set up my microphones in the garden in readiness.

As it transpired, I couldn’t have chosen a better occasion. The moment was perfect from start to finish, a readymade symphony:

The recording begins with a chirruping bird, then the beat of a distant pan. A lone clapper soon becomes hundreds, dogs bark, car horns sound, tambourines clatter, tubas parp, all emblazoned with fireworks in the middle distance. Glorious!

And, as I listened to so many humans uniting in our extended neighbourhood, I thought…

that’s the spirit.

For Grandad

In between missions on The Lifeboat Station Project, I’ve really enjoyed fulfilling a couple of longstanding arrangements — the making of two portraits.

This one is about two brothers, Danny and Ben Hughes…


I’ve known Danny for a few years – ever since he co-created Unit 44 Gallery right here in Newcastle. Therefore, it was a pleasure to meet his brother Ben for the first time.

Danny and Ben Hughes with Jack Lowe

Danny Hughes, Jack Lowe and Ben Hughes with the freshly-made portrait on glass

Sadly, their Grandad is showing the early signs of Alzheimer’s Disease. They’ve decided to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society by doing one big thing that they really hope their Grandad will remember – trekking up Mount Kilimanjaro.

Even if he doesn’t remember, they’re proud to be raising money for others like him.

In the process, they’re launching a charity called Grandad and the portrait we made together is a part of that launch.


Danny and Ben Hughes for Grandad

Danny and Ben Hughes, Steel Rigg, Northumberland, Monday 23rd November 2015, 12×10 inch Ambrotype by Jack Lowe

If you’d like to help Danny and Ben on their way, check out their JustGiving page.


Jack Lowe by Ben Hughes

Photograph by Ben Hughes

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…


THE LIFEBOAT STATION PROJECT

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

Shipshape

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…

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…