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…

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.

Chasing Shadows

We find ourselves in the midst of an extremely topical Northern Lights season once again, with comparisons potentially being made to The Great Solar Storm of 1859.

Aurora Borealis, Great Solar Storm of 1859, Boulogne Pier, Northern Lights

‘The Aurora Borealis, seen from the pier, Boulogne’, an etching I found on eBay a while back made around the time of The Great Solar Storm of 1859…

If that were to happen again, it would surely look pretty but it would also wreak havoc in a world that now relies so heavily on an electronic infrastructure.

As I was reminded last night, chasing the Aurora Borealis can be hard work — sometimes like chasing shadows rather than fantastical laser light shows.

The lure of glorious rewards keeps me motivated but, as hope fizzled out once again in the small hours, I’m glad I appreciated my beginner’s luck chasing the Aurora in 2012.

Here’s are the words I wrote at the time on another site o’ mine

 

Holy Aurora! The Northern Lights Venture South

[23rd January 2012]

 

Last night, I received a phone call from my Aurora-chasing friend, Reed Ingram Weir.

Apparently, the facts and figures were all pointing to a stellar show by The Northern Lights.

If I was to finally witness this natural phenomenon, now would be the time to jump in the car and make the sixty five mile journey north on the A1.

It would have been all too easy to settle in for the night on a Sunday evening but I was soon experiencing an intense urge to make the trip.

Aware that digital cameras can pick up early signs of the Aurora much more easily than the human eye, I quickly nipped to the top of the house to photograph the Northern sky.

The giveaway green haze hovering above the Newcastle horizon convinced me that it was time to go and meet Reed on the Holy Island causeway:

aurora borealis, northern lights, newcastle upon tyne, north east england

A faint green haze above the city, the moment I knew I had to drive North…

I grabbed a friend who I knew would also cherish the experience, though neither of us could ever have been prepared for the scene that greeted us.

Nearing the turn-off for Holy Island, the sky had become alive with huge columns of light, folding and weaving like waves of fabric.

Words can barely describe the emotion that overcame me — it was all I could do to keep the car on the road with such a spectacle taking place in the cold air above us.

Vast slabs of vertical green light gave the Northumberland night sky an epic cathedral-like appearance and all for a fleeting fifteen minutes or so…

As we arrived on the dark causeway, I must confess to feeling a little jittery.

The light show was beginning to fade already but it still looked sensational as it receded.  I managed to capture these images while the performance played out:

aurora borealis, northern lights, northumberland, holy island, north east england

Gentle scenes from the Holy Island causeway as we arrived…

aurora borealis, northern lights, northumberland, holy island, north east england

Vertical shafts of light began to appear once more…

aurora borealis, northern lights, northumberland, holy island, north east england

…the sky then appeared to fold and crease like fabric above the glow of Berwick upon Tweed.

In all honesty, the intensity of green captured by my camera surprised me.  However, it seemed to match up with the photographs of others.

When watching this beautiful show, I didn’t see green, I saw a bluey-silvery-grey. I thought that reciprocity failure might have come into play, so I tried some very short exposures.

Yes, the images were very under-exposed but the green colour still prevailed.  Even the ‘quick and dirty’ capture made at ISO 3200 (the image at the top of this post) immediately showed the Aurora-green piercing through the urban haze.

It seems that more intense displays further north, in and around locations such as Tromsø, literally drench the surroundings in a glorious green light.

Thankfully, at times, we were able to see the green for ourselves during pinpricks of higher intensity.

Indeed, as we were arriving, I’ve already mentioned the great slabs of green light standing tall like huge, futuristic, architectural pillars in the sky.

So, this sparked a further spine-tingling question in my mind: When the intensity levels of the Aurora are reduced further South, why is that we observe a bluey-silvery-grey colour, yet we point a digital camera at the Aurora and the intense green prevails?

Is the camera able to render information that we cannot perceive at these lower intensities?  I’m sure there will be answers to this but I simply enjoyed pondering them while standing in that icy cold theatre.

I expect Professor Brian Cox would know the answer. If you know, feel free to enlighten us by leaving a comment in the box at the end of this post!

And so, the curtain gradually fell on the performance. The graceful, pulsing light faded away yet still lingered, maintaining a hold on us and making it very difficult to set off home.

aurora borealis, northern lights, northumberland, holy island, north east england

The performance draws to a close with one last needle of brilliant light.

And let’s not forget the beautiful sky to the South, so dense that Orion (often obvious at this time of year) is almost lost among its neighbours:

night sky, stars, orion, northumberland, holy island, north east england

The stunning Northumberland night sky with Orion in the centre.

Some say that viewing the Aurora Borealis is life-changing.

Would I agree? Yes, without a doubt.

I haven’t been able to shake the experiences of last night from my mind, not that I’ve wanted to.

Furthermore, it’s taken me most of the day in grabbed moments here and there to attempt to put those experiences into words.

I’m still not sure that I’ve succeeded.

As I put my boys to bed this evening, I peered North from the window once more. Nothing.

The Aurora Borealis was gone for the moment but I shall never look at the sky in the same way again, day or night.

I love this video clip below, the Aurora Borealis and Australis as seen from the International Space Station.

It seems appropriate to sign off from this post by leaving you with this beautiful footage…

Chapter Two: New Beginnings

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that this video clip had a new relevance for me.

I’ve been asking myself some pretty straight questions recently. As a result, my eyes and mind have been opened up to a photographic sub-culture that I always knew existed but only ever dreamed about — until now…

On Thursday, this culminated in making my first ever glass Wet Plate.

And here it is:

Paul Cordes, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Keys by Jack Lowe

From left to right, 5 minutes in the life of Paul Cordes, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Keys

It’s a portrait of the team who rallied round to share their wisdom with me — new folks in my life to whom I’m extremely appreciative.

You’ll see the plate’s a bit of a mess due to my novice-like pouring technique but it still has a certain something, don’t you think?

Paul Cordes, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Keys by Jack Lowe

Detail from my first Wet Plate (Alastair Cook)

Paul Cordes, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Keys by Jack Lowe

Edge detail from my first Wet Plate — this one’s for Paul Kenny!

Actually, I’m in there too. During the five minute exposure (it was pretty dark), I strolled slowly in front of the lens to make sure I wasn’t left out.

The plate also now features in Bastards’ First Plate Gallery at Collodion Bastards (Wet Plate Work of Questionable Parentage).

My sincere thanks to Alastair Cook, Jonathan Keys and Paul Cordes for their help, great company and for rounding off the year perfectly.

Afterwards, we decamped for cake and coffee at Heaton Perk to take away the taste of collodion in the back of our throats.

Bliss.

With best wishes to everyone for 2014, when there’ll be more to report on these new beginnings…

Great North Humanity

Until a couple of years ago, like Charlie Brooker, I would never have dreamed that I’d become a runner.

I’d watch the London Marathon on television and be full of admiration for those who took part but it was always in a separate box for me, not part of my life.

Ditto for the Great North Run.

Living in Newcastle, however, the difference with the latter was that I could hear it all going on outside my own bedroom window.

The loud tannoy, the cheering crowds and, of course, the Red Arrows.

As Sue Barker looked at me judgementally, I even photographed the GNR on television in 2006 as my contribution to Julian Germain’s Running Line.

Great North Run 2006, Sue Barker

Sue Barker judging me for watching in bed in 2006…

Finally, watching it from the comfort of my bed in 2011, I thought, “This is ridiculous. I’m reasonably fit. I need to get off my backside and give this a go!”

Great North Run 2006 for Julian Germain's Running Line

“Feel Better”, the banners read…

And, lo, it was decided. I trained wholeheartedly, ran my first Great North Run in 2012 and raised lots of money for the Lifeboats in the process.

Great…?

It was indeed great but very hard. This year I ran it for the second time and it was even better. So much better that I’m more bitten by the bug than ever.

So why is the Great North Run ‘great’?

For me, other than its obvious size, the run is so humbling and moving…

The humanity and endeavour is extraordinary. Folks of all ages and abilities running together for charity, for loved ones or simply for themselves.

When the going gets tough, you only have to glance over your shoulder and see a fellow runner who’s recently undergone cancer treatment to know it’s simply time to suck it up and get on with it!

The personal and collective achievement is astonishing.

Real Ale for Real Runners…

With 56,000 entrants, this is now the largest mass participation event in the UK (much bigger than the London Marathon) and the largest half marathon event in the world — it really does have to be seen to be believed.

Great North Run 2013, Runners on Central Motorway

My wife captured the throng as it passed the mile mark on the Central Motorway…

Even among so many peopIe, I’ve yet to hear a cross word come from the lips of anyone involved (not true of other ‘sporting’ fixtures I’ve attended with similar crowd sizes).

The same goes for the crowds who turn out to show their support, crowds that are practically unbroken on both sides of the road for 13.1 miles.

Then there are the sights and sounds:

…the children holding out their hands for high fives…

…the drumming bands pounding out their beats, tapping into our primeval nature…

…supporters handing out beer as “real ale for real runners”…

…Elvis singing for us, ever-present year after year around the eleven mile mark…

…not to mention the Red Arrows forming the customary heart in the sky over the sea.

Give it a Go!

If, like I did, you feel that the Great North Run ‘isn’t for you’, I urge you to reconsider and give it a go. It’ll likely enhance your life in so many ways.

I’ve particularly enjoyed the fundraising element and have nearly reached my £2000 target for the Tynemouth Lifeboat Station this year.

The Great North Run 2014 reminder service is now open, so how about it?

One Last Thing…

On finishing this year’s run, there was an extraordinary statistical coincidence — once the data from so many runners had settled, my finishing position and bib race number actually matched!

Great North Run 2013, Matching Position and Bib Numbers

I tend to get very excited about this kind of thing. The probability of this happening in an event with 56,000 entrants must be extremely slim.

Picture the scene:

  • I applied online to enter the Great North Run;
  • The ballot closed;
  • My running number was assigned to me based on my predicted time;
  • On race day, I made my way to the start line and stood in the designated zone;
  • I started the 13.1 miles and competed among the hustle and bustle;
  • 2 hours 12 minutes later, I crossed the finishing line in a position that matched my bib number!

What are the odds, I wonder, and how often does it happen?

It seems that I could even have placed a £1 bet on it and I wouldn’t have had to work another day in my life!

A mathematician friend of mine seems equally intrigued and is looking into it.

I’ll keep you posted…

By the way, if you’d like to support my fundraising efforts, please click here (donations of any size are much-appreciated).

Bridge Gazing

Wandering in the lower reaches of the Ouseburn Valley here in Newcastle, it’s impossible to miss one of my favourite locations — a spot where a collection of fine bridges has spanned the valley in some way shape or form since the 18th Century.

To stroll among these marvels of civil engineering is breathtaking, a sensation akin to gazing at an art gallery laden with Old Master paintings.

Byker Bridges, Photography by Jack Lowe

Byker Bridges, 2003

My favourites are the 280 metre 1839 railway viaduct and the 800 metre long 1982 Metro light-rail bridge, both from very different times but both individually stunning.

I’ve really missed having access to this part of our local habitat…

Over the last couple of years, the railway viaduct has undergone a £10million refurbishment during which time the surroundings have become a no-go area; a scaffolding-clad 24/7 hive of bustling industry.

Metro Bridge, Photography by Jack Lowe

Metro Bridge, 2003

We’ll be able to wonder among this gallery again soon, however, as the scaffolding is finally coming down.

The rejuvenated viaduct looks truly resplendent in its new raven-black coat.

Ouseburn Viaduct, Newcastle upon Tyne

The scaffolding comes down, March 2013

The Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle upon Tyne, Google Earth

The Ouseburn Valley as seen by Google Earth (the railway viaduct is still covered here).

In a couple of years or so, when the scarred landscape has had time to recover, I’ll look forward to rephotographing this favourite spot…

— Signed Prints

I make prints of Byker Bridges and Metro Bridge that are numbered, signed and embossed — you can buy them directly from my Cornerstone Collection.

Snow Business

Today, the sun’s been shining and the snowy weather is fast becoming a distant memory.

Some scenes captured over the last few weeks as I trudged around in the white stuff…

Wintery view of the snow in Newcastle upon Tyne from Heaton overlooking Jesmond Vale

Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne

Wintery view of the snow in Newcastle upon Tyne looking down the Byker Link

Snow clouds loom over the Byker Link, Newcastle upon Tyne

Wintery scene from Newcastle upon Tyne to Gateshead as seen from the Byker Link

High rise flats bathe in the skinny sunlight across the river in Gateshead

Wintery sunset from Newcastle upon Tyne to Gateshead as seen from Jack Lowe Studio

From my studio, another stunning wintery sunset over Gateshead

Wintery view of the snow in Newcastle upon Tyne from Heaton overlooking Jesmond Vale

From the sanctuary of our home…