Book revives Kennedy photos

Friday, October 24, 2003

— They were so historically valuable insurers couldn't even price them: 40,000 negatives of John F. Kennedy and his family taken by his personal photographer, Jacques Lowe.

Lowe kept the negatives secure for decades, finally depositing them in a bank vault at the World Trade Center. When the towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001, just months after Lowe's death, the vault became part of the rubble.

Miraculously, the vault was found. But it was empty when Lowe's daughter, Thomasina, went to claim it early last year.

"I was bewildered. I couldn't make sense of what I was seeing," she recalled. "I was grateful that my dad hadn't had to bear this; it would have destroyed him."

But thanks to new technologies, Lowe's work was not completely gone.

"Remembering Jack: Intimate and Unseen Photographs of the Kennedys" was published this month, on the 40th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's death. It is a book of images culled from existing prints and never-before-seen contact sheets.

Photographer Bob Adelman, a longtime friend of Lowe's, began working on a book of Lowe's work shortly after he died in May 2001. Adelman went through all the contact sheets Lowe kept in his downtown Manhattan studio.

He planned to pick the images for the book from the contact sheets, then print them from the negatives stored in the safe. With the negatives gone, "I was pretty discouraged," Adelman said.

But not deterred.

Adelman and Thomasina Lowe thought there might be another way -- and they consulted technicians on whether good reproductions could be made from the small contact sheet images.

"It was a real shot in the dark," Lowe's daughter said. "We were really kind of hoping for the best."

What they got exceeded their expectations. Advances in printing and digital technology resulted in a slew of quality images with remarkable clarity.

The contact sheets themselves, some bearing the red pencil marks Jacques Lowe used to identify the images he planned to print, also have been included in the book. Printing the entire sheet gives viewers the advantage of seeing images that came right before and after the shot selected by Lowe for printing; it has the effect of a movie reel.

Many of these outtakes have never been seen by the public; of the more than 600 black-and-white photos in the book, half are previously unpublished.

"Remembering Jack" is among a group of new books marking the 40th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.