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

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.

A Perfect Sunday on the River Tyne

The River Tyne, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

Six bridges over The River Tyne, Newcastle

A perfectly cold and crisp Sunday on the River Tyne in Newcastle.

I’ve now lived here for twelve years and remain constantly in awe of the beautiful views in around the city I now call home.

I thought you might like to see this photograph I posted on Instagram this afternoon, depicting six of the seven bridges that cross the river.

So, where’s the seventh bridge? I’m standing on it — the Millennium Bridge.

For those who like to know, this scene was captured on my iPhone 4S and processed using Snapseed.

Postcards from the Leeds & Liverpool Canal

I’ve been involved in a rather special journey over the last week or so — accompanying my friend Duncan Davis on his narrowboat, Pearl Barley, from Skipton to Leeds.

Defiantly imperial, Duncan briefed me ahead of our mission:

“The total distance is 28 miles, 7¾ furlongs and 28 locks. There are at least 32 moveable bridges of which 3 are usually left open and 20 small aqueducts or underbridges.”

The journey took five days, albeit at a leisurely pace. The time taken to travel home to Newcastle by train from Leeds? 90 minutes!

A longer blog post beckons once I have sifted through the hundreds of photographs I’ve made. In the meantime, I’d like to share my favourite Instagrams from the journey with you.

All made with my iPhone 4s and edited with Nik Software’s Snapseed, I view them as a kind of scrapbook for formulating my thoughts whilst also acting as modern day postcards, winging their way into the timelines of my followers…

Pearl Barley on the Leeds Liverpool Canal

The 57ft Pearl Barley

Morris 1000 Dashboard

Duncan had a surprise for me — we would drive from Frosterley to Skipton in his 1955 Morris 1000…

Pearl Barley narrowboat gearbox

Before we could go anywhere, the gearbox needed seeing to…

Captain Duncan Davis at the tiller of his heritage narrowboat, Pearl Barley

Captain Duncan Davis at the tiller of Pearl Barley

Pearl Barley on the Leeds Liverpool Canal

Standing on the roof of Pearl Barley as we pass through a leafy stretch of the Leeds Liverpool Canal…

Bingley Five Rise Staircase Lock

Entering the first lock at Bingley Five Rise…

Bingley Five Rise Staircase Lock Gates

Water gushes through the 4220kg gates at Bingley Five Rise…

Pearl Barley moored at Saltaire on the Leeds Liverpool Canal

The stoves keep us warm during a chilly, misty morning at Saltaire…

Duncan Davis at Fanny's Public House, Saltaire

Duncan Davis at Fanny’s Public House, Saltaire