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PHOTOGRAPHY EXHIBITION CELEBRATING RNLI PAST AND PRESENT OPENS

Photo: James Dwyer
Jack Lowe, Michael Spender, Joe Williams and Hayley Whiting at the launch. Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

A ground-breaking new RNLI photography exhibition featuring the work of Beken of Cowes has opened at Poole Museum in Dorset.

Calm Before the Storm: The Art of Photographing Lifeboats is a new exhibition of over 80 photographs revealing the past and present of the life-saving charity.

Over 100 guests attended a private view at the Museum to mark the opening last night (Friday), including RNLI Ambassador Ant Middleton, star of SAS Who Dares Wins.

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There are 85 striking images on show at the Museum, spanning over nearly 100 years, which have all been taken on glass plates. These include lifeboat images from the archive of the famous Beken family in Cowes – a family of photographers who captured maritime life around the Isle of Wight since the turn of the century.

The exhibition was made possible with the support of both the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Christopher Andreae and The Scorpion Trust. This backing enabled the RNLI to preserve and digitise the Beken glass plate negatives.

Volunteers were brought into the charity’s headquarters in Poole, Dorset, to clean, scan and repackage the fragile glass plates. They also carried out valuable research on the images, in particular exploring the histories of individual lifeboats.

Nerys Watts, Head of HLF South West, said:

“Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, we’re delighted to support this project which will provide a fascinating glimpse into our maritime heritage – from coastal communities to crews at sea. As well as ensuring the survival of this unique collection, this project will give people of all ages the opportunity to get involved in exploring their heritage.”

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The second floor gallery is also full of beautiful glass plate imagery of lifeboats and lifeboat crews, but from an inspiring modern day odyssey called The Lifeboat Station Project.

The eight-year mission, which is the brainchild of photographer Jack Lowe, began in January 2015. Jack is visiting all 238 RNLI lifeboat stations in the UK and Republic of Ireland to capture them using Wet Plate Collodion, a Victorian process that creates stunning images on glass. The exhibition at Poole Museum is the biggest showing of Jack’s work so far.

Jack has visited the Isle of Wight several times now and a photograph of Bembridge Lifeboat Station is included in his 2019 calendar.

Hayley Whiting, RNLI Heritage Archive and Research Manager, said:

“Having the Beken images on display at Poole Museum is a wonderful opportunity to showcase our heritage. This exhibition, in the home of the RNLI, is a window into our proud history, telling stories of innovation, sacrifice and bravery. We hope many people will come and see this exciting exhibition of unique images which have rarely been seen before.”

Photographer Jack Lowe said:

“This is the first time so many of the photographs from my journey have been on display and seeing this exhibition come to fruition has taken me aback. As I look around the gallery, I’m so moved by the body of images, the memories behind each one, and the stark reminder of the RNLI volunteers’ extraordinary commitment to saving lives at sea.

“Without those people and the support they have given me, there’d be no story to tell. And, for that, I thank them from the bottom of my heart. I really hope the public enjoy the exhibition and walk away with a spring in their step, reminded that the RNLI will be there for them whenever they’re needed.”

Calm Before the Storm: The Art of Photographing Lifeboats will be on display at Poole Museum from 26th January to 22nd April 2019. Entry is free.

Jack Lowe will be at the museum to give a talk about his work on 30th April. For more tickets for this event click here.

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