People become lifeboat crew for many reasons, but for one Whitstable man, it was an interest in Victorian photography that led him to join the RNLI!
Richard Monje, a 40-year-old railway worker, was inspired by The Lifeboat Station Project, photographer Jack Lowe’s mission to capture all 238 lifeboat stations using wet plate collodion – a Victorian photographic method that captures images on glass plates.
Richard say’s “Jack’s portraits of volunteer lifeboat crew made me want to join their ranks. I studied photography at university, and a few years ago, I tried my hand at wet plate collodion. It’s a very difficult photographic process so I was looking around the internet to find other people who were doing it, and that’s how I found Jack’s work. It was amazing seeing someone doing that kind of photography on such a grand scale”.
“But following his project really opened my eyes to the RNLI. I remember seeing his image of the Margate RNLI. It really resonated with me as it made me realise just how many people were involved in launching the boat, that it was a very labour-intensive operation. I thought, ‘I could be one of them”.
“I emailed my local lifeboat station, Whitstable, saying I worked shifts and I would be happy to do whatever I could to help out, and the Lifeboat Operations Manager invited me down for a chat and the more I learnt about it, the more I wanted to do it”.
Richard officially became a trainee crew member at Whitstable in June 2019 and went afloat for the first time on a training exercise a few weeks ago.
He says: “So far, life as a lifeboat crew volunteer has been fantastic. It’s great to feel as though you are doing something meaningful with your spare time and giving something back. It’s very rewarding to be part of an organisation that is at the heart of the local community and I’m very proud to call myself an RNLI crew member, I had no idea what to expect, and having not come from a boating background I had a lot to learn”.
As well as giving his time as volunteer crew, Richard has also become a ‘patron’ of Jack’s project, which is largely self-funded.
Photographer Jack Lowe, who lives in Newcastle, says: “When I started the Lifeboat Station Project in January 2015, I thought I’d simply be telling the story of a band of people that I’ve held in high esteem since childhood — the lifeboat volunteers dotted around our shores”. “I would never have dreamed of receiving this kind of news, that my own journey would have inspired somebody to wander down to their local lifeboat station and sign up to become a volunteer. Somehow, it feels like the ultimate accolade for my efforts”.
“I’d like to thank Richard for his ongoing support and wish him well in his exciting new chapter as a Whitstable lifeboat volunteer.”