Any photographer’s nightmare is to lose a body of work. That dread is magnified many times over if you happen to be a presidential photographer, tasked to chronicle a period in the life of a future head of state. That is exactly what happened to some of the works of Jacques Lowe. At 28 years of age, he was tasked to document the Kennedy family‘s Senate re-election campaign, the first year of JFK in the White House and some escapes to Hyannis Port.
“There are no words to describe how attached my father was to his Kennedy negatives,” wrote, Jacques’ daughter, Thomasina Lowe, in the introduction of Remembering Jack, published in 2003. “They defined who he was as a person and as a photographer. Those images were priceless, their value beyond calculation. So he stored them in a fireproof bank vault in the World Trade Center.”
As irony would have it, that fireproof vault went down in flames in the 9/11 attacks, destroying 40,000 negatives. Fortunately for Lowe, some 1,500 contact sheets and prints were stored in another facility in New York City. An exhibition at the Newseum in Washington D.C. showcases 170 of the saved images. The restoration process however proved to be difficult and required a team of seven specialists. More than 600 hours were required to bring contact sheets, work prints and creased proofs back to viewable condition. Senior manager of visual resources at the museum, Indira Williams Babic related the tedious process when she spoke to TIME.
“There wasn’t anything first-generation that we could work off of,” said Babic, “We poured through around 40,000 images, give or take.” Whittling down the images to roughly 1,000, she then sorted the pictures into categories.
“Creating Camelot: The Kennedy Photography of Jacques Lowe” features intimate, behind-the-scenes images of John and Jacqueline Kennedy and their children, Caroline and John. Lowe was 28 when he met the Kennedys in 1958 and was hired as the family’s personal photographer. Lowe’s photos span from Kennedy’s 1958 U.S. Senate re-election campaign through his early years in the White House. The iconic images helped create the legend of the Kennedy presidency known as Camelot.”
So finally after more than 10 years after the horrifying events of 9/11 and after 50 years since the passing of JFK, we are once again brought back to that golden era in American politics we call Camelot.