Saturday, 09 February 2019 18:19

A Celebration of the RNLI at Poole Museum

A Celebration of the RNLI at Poole Museum © Duncan Davis

Poole Museum is hosting a unique photography project celebrating the distinguished past and present of the RNLI. Entitled: Calm before the Storm - The Art of Photographing Lifeboats, the free exhibition will run from 26 January to 22 April 2019.

Calm Before the Storm will showcase over 80 images of lifeboats dating back to the turn of the 20th Century right up until the present day, including the lifeboat volunteers based in Poole. The historic images come from the Beken family on the Isle of Wight. The Beken family has been photographing maritime life in Cowes for generations, leaving a stunning visual legacy of RNLI lifeboats that were built on the island. These images have been painstakingly cleaned, scanned and repackaged by a team of six enthusiastic volunteers working in the RNLI Headquarters in Poole. Bridging the past and present, the exhibition will also feature thought-provoking images of lifeboat crews from the present day. This half of the exhibition has been produced by photographer Jack Lowe who uses Victorian photographic methods to capture images on glass. 

Jack is visiting all 238 RNLI lifeboat stations in the UK and Republic of Ireland to photograph them. He is half way through his photographic odyssey, which he estimates will take eight years to complete. The exhibition at Poole Museum is the biggest showing of Jack’s work so far. Jack, grandson of Dad’s Army actor Arthur Lowe, also an avid RNLI supporter, said: “My early childhood was spent on a Victorian schooner in Ramsgate harbour and on the Thames. My Dad is an experienced seafarer and introduced me to the wonders of lifeboats – these incredible, powerful pieces of kit designed for heroic, lifesaving missions on stormy seas. Now I’m following my heart and uniting the two dreams. I’m using a photographic technique developed in the 1850s, around the time that the RNLI was incorporated under Royal Charter.”

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 glass plate negatives. 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.”

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.” 

Cllr John Challinor, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Culture, Borough of Poole, said: “The exhibition holds a special significance for us given the RNLI’s presence in Poole and our strong connection with seafaring. We are delighted to be home to the fascinating snapshots through time and to be helping to raise awareness for the service both locally and around the country.”

Poole Museum is open Monday to Saturday 10am - 4pm and Sunday 12pm - 4pm.


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