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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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)

My New Ambulance

It’s been a curve-curve ball of a week…

A while back you may remember that I was inspired by the work and adventures of Ian Ruhter who makes huge Tintypes in The States using his old blue van as a giant camera — a van he affectionately calls The Time Machine.

If you haven’t seen his now-famous Silver & Light video, I’ll include it at the bottom of this post for you. Watch it. You’ll love it.

At the beginning of my own journey in wet plate collodion, I’ve been fantasising about the kind of vehicle I might own one day to use as a mobile darkroom. So, I’ve been keeping a weather eye focussed on eBay to get an idea of what’s out there for when the time comes.

As you might imagine, there’s a plethora of weird and wonderful machines available. Two weeks ago, a decommissioned NHS ambulance came up for sale and I knew instantly that it would be perfect but, in all honesty, the timing felt too soon.

Mournfully, I watched it slip away — sold to some lucky buyer who I now envied…

Envy isn’t a pleasant emotion, so I quickly expelled the memory from my consciousness and endeavoured to move on. I managed that until eBay sent me a tantalising email stating:

“An item you were watching has been relisted.”

Shucks. Now it felt like destiny. The urge was strong to see if I could possibly bring this wondrous vehicle into my life. And thus, to cut a long story short and after a marathon return trip to Cheltenham yesterday, it became so.

This vehicle — shortly to be my wet plate collodion darkroom — is simply incredible. A ready-made lab on wheels. It’s built solidly, crammed with loads of  gadgets and has effortlessly awakened childhood memories (mainly involving Lego, toy cars and Ghostbusters).

The previous owners named it Neena — get it?

Anyway, I can’t wait for the adventures that lie ahead. Here it is — my new ambulance:

Jack Lowe's Ambulance / Wet Plate Collodion Darkroom

Jack Lowe's Ambulance / Wet Plate Collodion DarkroomJack Lowe's Ambulance / Wet Plate Collodion Darkroom

Jack Lowe's Ambulance / Wet Plate Collodion Darkroom

Jack Lowe's Ambulance / Wet Plate Collodion Darkroom

Jack Lowe's Ambulance / Wet Plate Collodion Darkroom

Jack Lowe's Ambulance / Wet Plate Collodion Darkroom

As promised, Ian Ruhter’s Silver & Light:

Kielder Moon Shines at BALTIC 39

On 9th December 2013 I made Kielder Moon, as it happened, on the very day that Kielder Observatory was awarded Dark Sky Status.

There’s another event that coincides with the release of this image — NASA celebrating its 45th anniversary of the 1969 lunar landing.

In recognition of this milestone and to acknowledge the moon’s place in our imaginations and culture, BALTIC 39 is currently staging ‘They Used to Call it the Moon‘, a beautiful exhibition dedicated to our nearest ball of rock, exploring the enduring presence of the moon and the rich iconography of space on the popular imagination of artists.

I was — ahem — over the moon when BALTIC invited me to include my recent creation in the exhibition. I’m very happy to announce that you can now buy numbered, signed and embossed prints directly from BALTIC Shop as well as from my New Prints page…

Kielder Moon, Kielder Observatory, the moon, astronomy, astrophotography, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art

‘Kielder Moon’ currently showing in ‘They Used to Call it the Moon’ at BALTIC 39

Kielder Moon, Kielder Observatory, the moon, astronomy, astrophotography, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art

Preparing prints for BALTIC Shop…

The Moon, Kielder Observatory, Northumberland National Park

Kielder Moon

Kielder Moon, Kielder Observatory, the moon, astronomy, astrophotography, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art

‘They Used to Call it the Moon’ / List of Works

One Night Stand

Bleary-eyed this morning, I buttered the bread for my boys’ packed lunches.

Like the porridge pot on the hob, Radio 4’s Today programme bubbled away in the background.

Maybe you heard it? Evan Davies was talking over the phone to a reporter about the largest Northern Lights display in England for ten years.

Once again, Evan had missed seeing it — cloud cover or something…

“So, do you think there’ll be a repeat performance tonight, or was it more of a one night stand?” asked Evan.

“No. It was certainly more of a one night stand!” the reporter replied.

If I hadn’t have been there for that particular one night stand (to use their words), I’d have been kicking myself…

— Strange Day

In hindsight, yesterday was a strange day; a day loaded with noteworthy events and coincidences.

Two years ago, I wrote about my first sighting of the Northern Lights, a post that I recently published on these pages.

Grasping a lead from my Aurora-chasing friend, Reed Ingram Weir, I’d headed up to the wilds of Northumberland to be greeted by wondrous sights.

He made a beautiful photograph of the event, one that still makes the news today.

I made the edition prints of it for him and, as a memento, Reed kindly gifted one to me, which I stowed in my plan chest at the time for safe-keeping.

Yesterday, over 700 days later, I stumbled across the print and spent a moment marvelling at it all over again. I took it straight down to Bruce (the framer downstairs from my studio) so I could hang it on my studio wall.

At that point, I wasn’t to know about the events to follow that very evening.

— Achy Eyeballs

Last night, as ever, I had a few domestic commitments. I combined them with a small trip to the supermarket.

Now, I’m a pretty driven chap and sometimes, when I have an idea that I want to pursue, it consumes me like a hunger.

At times, I can find it a little tricky to slow my mind down and relax. Sometimes, I even feel the adrenalin gently building up, creating a dull ache behind my eyes.

The usual cure is to go for a run or walk the dog to break those chemicals down and restore order.

As I wondered around the supermarket last night I felt distinctly odd — really energised and excited. My eyes were aching like mad with just this kind of adrenalin surge.

I couldn’t work it out — all my current ideas are well underway and in-hand. 😉

I got home, sat at the kitchen table and tried to massage my eyes better. A long dog walk was surely on the cards.

Briefly, it popped into my head that this was exactly how I felt two years ago with all that extreme solar activity. The thought was enough for me to get my phone out and look at the geomagnetic data that we monitor on these occasions, published by the Tromsø Geophysical Observatory.

I couldn’t believe my aching eyes.

Tromsø Geophysical Observatory

I started navigating to the keypad to call Reed and see if he’d noticed too.

He beat me to it and his name flashed up on my screen. I answered the call.

“Reed, I know what this is about.”

“Yes, Jack, I’m standing outside my own home looking at the Aurora!”

The decision was made. Within 40 minutes, I’d rallied four friends from my Aurora List and that was it, we were blasting up the A1 once more.

— Never Say Never

By 11pm, we arrived at my favourite vantage point, high up over the coast with a huge view of the northern sky.

Without the moon, the night sky was very dark and truly extraordinary. We admired the constellations and marvelled at Jupiter’s moons through our binoculars.

And, yes, the Northern Lights were there as a bright mercurial blue — gently pulsing like the light of a sleeping Mac.

However, there was no sensational structure at that stage. The architectural grandeur I’d witnessed two years ago was missing.

My friends, though, had now seen the Northern Lights for the first time, albeit on the third time of asking.

They were happy and all was good. So, at 12:45am, it was time to head home. It was a school night after all.

At this stage, it’s true that I was a little disappointed. I’d now made my third 130 mile round trip without much luck since my emotional first experience in 2012.

As we sped home through the cold, cutting air, I gradually heard words like bright and stronger being voiced in the back of the car.

I glanced in my rear view mirror and — wow — the Aurora seemed to be coming alive in a whole new way.

I pulled over into the nearest layby and we stepped out of the car into a whole new level of cold.

The night freight rumbled by us at close quarters. We constantly had to look away from the bright headlights to shield our eyes and protect our precious night vision.

Then at 1:01am sharp — as the icy air frisked us for skin — the show began.

Aurora Borealis, Northern Lights, Northumberland, North East England

The characteristic needles of light sprung out of nowhere, not as strongly as 2012 but there nonetheless…

Aurora Borealis, Northern Lights, Northumberland, North East England

The folding, fabric-like movement was just about discernible…

Accompanied by our ground-level oohs and aahs, the silent spectacle eventually faded and retreated north once more.

Retreated north until the next time — another occasion, like this, when I hope we’ll be able to say that we were there

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…

Kielder’s Golden Darkness

More money may have been spent in one year bailing out the banks than has ever been spent on scientific research (yes, in all fields, ever), but there’s one shimmering product of that research nestled in deepest Northumberland, chest deservedly puffed with pride…

As I cranked up the radio over breakfast yesterday, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing — some really good news.

I joined just in time to hear that Northumberland National Park had finally been awarded Dark Sky Status by the International Dark-Sky Association. In fact, the highest possible accolade — Gold Tier Dark Sky status.

Why is this particularly great news? Because a key Northumberland National Park attraction, positioned very close to the English/Scottish border, is Kielder Observatory.

Coincidentally, right on the night of their big announcement, I’d booked to attend another of the observatory’s legendary Jupiter Nights — my third visit in the last year or so.

Jupiter and Four Moons, Kielder Observatory, Northumberland National Park

Jupiter and four of its moons, captured by ITE — iPhone To Eyepiece 😉

My companion for the journey, visiting from Korea, had never seen a true night sky. 

Due to the terrible air pollution in her home near Seoul, the most she had ever seen was one or two stars attempting to break through the smog.

So, with such a great facility nearby, how could I not suggest the journey to Kielder to experience the night sky at its finest?

A Patchy Start…

On arrival, conditions were mixed and, at one point, heavy cloud completely obscured the sky.

Through one of the powerful telescopes, we’d managed an early glimpse of Jupiter along with its moons but it would be great to enjoy more.

Thankfully, the biting cold wind parted the clouds, unveiling the night sky — complete with a faint Milky Way and shooting stars to boot.

As the perfect half moon set in the west, the sky became darker and darker, the stars stronger and stronger — a near perfect night to observe the heavens and remind ourselves that we’re a ball of rock tumbling around in organised chaos. A gift.

The Moon, Kielder Observatory, Northumberland National Park

The Moon from Kielder Observatory, again captured by ITE…

A Breath of Fresh Air…

The award of Gold Tier Dark Sky Status is huge for the North East.

Northumberland National Park is one of only a handful of Dark Skies across the globe. Moreover, it’s the darkest sky in Europe and the third biggest Dark Sky in the world.

Gary Fildes can now press on confidently with his ambitious plans, which include a state-of-the-art planetarium (for those nights when the cloud-cover lingers) and the installation of a one-metre aperture telescope.

Not only that, 1500 square kilometres of Northumbrian countryside will now be protected from the vagaries of increased light pollution — any planning applications will absolutely have to take into account the area’s newly-awarded status.

All-in-all, a breath of fresh air to see less being recognised as so much more

PRINTS AVAILABLE!

I’ve made Kielder Moon into a beautiful, affordable trinket at 6×6″ on 10×8″ paper — you can find it on this dedicated page.