The Barbour story began in 1894, providing garments for sailors, fishermen and dockers, to protect them from the worst of the North Sea weather. The Original North Sea Outfitters collection is inspired by Barbour’s heritage and practical know how in providing garments of the highest quality for a life outdoors come rain or shine.
Tell us about The Lifeboat Station Project and how it began?
The Lifeboat Station Project is one of the biggest photographic projects ever undertaken — documenting the 238 RNLI lifeboat stations dotted around the coastal and inland waters of the UK and Ireland. It’s a record of a very important slice of island culture — a side of life we perhaps take a little for granted.
In essence, it began life when I saw a lifeboat for the first time aged around 10 or 11. I’d already been interested in photography for a good two years by then, so this is a unification of those two childhood passions.
What is the ultimate end goal of The Lifeboat Station Project?
At lifeboatstationproject.com, I describe The LSP as being “About the lifeboat volunteers, for the lifeboat volunteers.” That sums up my goal in a nutshell.
I’d love this work to be a legacy for the lifeboat volunteers and their families that serve so selflessly round the clock, day in, day out.
Can you tell us about the type of photography and tools that are involved in your work, including Neena?
I’m using a very early photographic process known as Wet Plate Collodion that dates back to 1851. There are different variants of the process, which range from making positive photographs on black metal — known as Tintypes — to making glass negatives that you use to make a print in the darkroom.
However, I’m making Clear Glass Ambrotypes — an image fixed on glass that’s viewed as positive when a jet black surface is placed behind it. I use a 12x10 inch mahogany plate camera dating from 1905 to make the photographs.
The process has to be completed from start-to-finish within a 10/15 minute window. So, time is of the essence and you need to have darkroom facilities close to hand to process the images straight away.
For some collodionists, this could be a small portable box or a tent but for such a hugely involved project based on the coast, I knew I would need something robust and sturdy. So, I have Neena — my mobile darkroom. She’s a decommissioned NHS emergency ambulance and perfect for the job. Even after making some 1200 glass plates and travelling tens of thousands of miles, I still can’t imagine a better vehicle.
What has been the highlight of the project so far?
There’ve been so many new friendships made and incredible moments witnessed including real-life lifeboat ‘shouts’ happening before our very eyes.
But, to be honest, there’s one overall highlight — the way in which the project has sparked the imagination of everyone who comes into contact with it. It moves me beyond words that people love it so much. I receive comments about my photographs on a daily basis via the website, social media and in person on the road.
What is it about the coast that inspires your work?
I’ve always been inspired by the coast because I’ve always loved the sea, but when I think about the Lifeboat Station Project, it’s really all about the people for me – the lifeboat crews who go out to sea in all weathers. Their background, their endeavour and their bravery.
Barbour’s tradition in outfitting brave men of the sea has been part of the business since its inception nearly 125 years ago. You visited our archive to see some of the old garments, were you surprised at this heritage?
I felt privileged to see and handle such beautiful and historical clothing.
In all honesty, it took me by surprise! For example, I had no idea that Barbour provided clothing for submariners all those decades ago. To see clothing that had actually been worn by maritime crews was something else. They’re garments that clearly hold a lot of history and would have some stories to tell. It made the connection with Barbour, my work, and the modern maritime community immediately snap into focus.
You wore Barbour when photographing crew members for this campaign. Was it fit for purpose and what were your favorite pieces?
I love the clothing! The boots were comfortable from the outset, and I feel really snug in the Orkney jacket, particularly in these recent icy winds we’ve been experiencing on the Northumberland coastline.
My favourite item, though, has to be the shirt. The material is really soft and comfy. There’s one very important detail for me too — I nearly always wear my sleeves rolled up, particularly when making photographs. The small band of button-up fabric on the arms that keeps my sleeves from unrolling is the best thing since photography.