We spoke to Nigel Millard, award winning photographer and friend of Finisterre in light of our new collaboration. Exclusively capturing the RNLI + Finisterre range on real lifeboat men and women, we caught up with the man on the other side of the lens.
Showcasing over 400 iconic images, 'The Lifeboat' collection captures the essence of the RNLI family, ordinary people doing extraordinary things. A visual tribute to the sea and those who go to it.
WHAT FIRST DREW YOU AND YOUR CAMERA TO THE RNLI?
The first time I witnessed a lifeboat being launched was into a raging sea in winter. The sky was black/brown caused by a mist of sand thrown up by the howling wind. Hoylake Lifeboat was heading across a mile of beach out to sea. As it crawled across the sand, it was surrounded by splashes of red and orange – the shore crew who aided the launch. It was at this point I was hooked.
I’d always admired the work of the RNLI, the selfless dedication of the volunteers who drop everything to head out to sea, whatever the weather to help those in need. People talk about the RNLI as a big family and that’s true… trust, courage and honour – principles at the heart of the RNLI family. There are 238 lifeboat stations around the UK and Republic of Ireland and the same spirit exists at every one of them.
HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED?
Initially, I spent time hanging out in Brixham at Torbay Lifeboat Station, my local station, spending as much time there as possible… photographing the watching, the waiting and the training. I was invited to complete a Sea Survival course – this allowed me access onto the operational lifeboat during shouts. Over the years, the personal project developed and I’d visit other Lifeboat Stations around the UK whilst shooting work commissions. Then in 2007, the guys asked if I would like to join the Torbay crew… which I did without hesitation!
WHAT IS IT LIKE WORKING AND SHOOTING WITHIN THE TIGHT DYNAMIC OF ANOTHER CREW? DOES THE CAMARADERIE TRANSFER FROM ONE BOAT TO ANOTHER?
Tea and biscuits - currency of the crew. The first badge I earned was my tea making one. Whenever I work with lifeboat crews, we have a brew and a chat and dunk a few chocolate Hobnobs (crew biscuit of choice by far). I get to hear what’s going on locally and we exchange stories of recent shouts and station life.
There is an amazing feeling of family, history and heritage inside every lifeboat station whether it’s just been built or standing for over 100 years. Photos on walls show crews standing in the kit of the day by the lifeboat of the day. Surnames under each photo from years past now sit proudly above the yellows (wet weather kit) of today. I travel with my own yellows and hang them alongside all of the others in the crew room. I collect a pager from the Coxswain and stow my cameras on the lifeboat – I’m then ready to react just like the local crew if the lifeboat is called. Whilst the reason for my visit is photography, I am lifeboat crew first and foremost – the camera comes second.
Wherever I am, whatever lifeboat I’m working with, the camaraderie and passion of the crew is exactly the same, they are ready to act if called on. Yes we have a laugh and a leg-pull but that’s put aside when the pagers sound. Everyone has a job to do, crews react with incredible professionalism and dedication at the time of need.
WORKING IN FOREVER CHANGING AND CHALLENGING ENVIRONMENTS, WHERE DO THESE ORDINARY MEN AND WOMEN FIND THE COURAGE TO DO WHAT THEY DO?
It’s all about teamwork, training and knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are. We exercise in all types of weather - the more challenging the better. Training brings confidence and understanding. We all have different roles onboard and when called upon, we just get on with the job in hand. When it’s all over, back at the boathouse, we have a brew, a debrief, a laugh or a cry… then it’s back to whatever you were doing before the pager sounded.
HOW IMPORTANT IS YOUR COLLECTION OF WORKS IN CONNECTING THE RNLI TO A WIDER AUDIENCE?
The brief I set myself was to capture the essence of the RNLI family, from the crewman in the Aran Islands heading out to sea on a wild winter's night, to the fundraisers in Birmingham, miles from the sea heading out to collect on a rainy day in June. Imagery has always been a key form of communication and now, with the advances in social media, it is more available than ever. There is so much out there competing for our attention so anything that can stop, arrest, pause, gain the viewer's attention for that fraction of a second could make the difference. I’m proud that the RNLI uses my imagery and I’m proud to be a crewman. There are 4800 volunteer crew and over 22,000 volunteer fundraisers – these are the lifeblood of the RNLI.
IF YOU COULD CHOOSE ONE IMAGE THAT SUMS IT ALL UP FOR YOU…
There are lots of images that hit the mark for me, but the one that sums it all up is a shot of Buckie Lifeboat crashing through a large wave. It shows the lifeboat from a casualty’s point of view. I’ve been a man overboard on exercises and spoken with survivors we have rescued – once you're in the water, you see nothing, then just a tiny bit of orange appears, and it’s not the sun, it’s a lifeboat. It epitomises the work I do, and the work of the RNLI.
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