Over the course of his career, photographer Jacques Lowe chronicled one of the most potent political stories of the 20th century, the rise of JFK. Brought on board as Official Campaign Photographer in the build-up to Kennedy’s bid for President, Lowe was in close contact with the Kennedys for years, and produced a mammoth body of work surrounding the family.
Worried about the safety of his negatives, Lowe had them stored in a fireproof safe in a bank vault in the World Trade Center, where they (along with a number of other irreplaceable artworks) were lost in the 9/11 attacks. With those 40,000 negatives destroyed, almost all of the originals from his time with the Kennedys were lost — but a small team at the Newseum in Washington D.C. has managed to restore some of the lost photographs.
Around 1,500 of Lowe’s contact sheets and prints were stored off site, elsewhere in New York City. And a team of seven image restoration specialists have been working for hundreds of hours to restore just 170 of those photographs for the exhibition “Creating Camelot: The Kennedy Photography of Jacques Lowe.” These images were frequently taken from thumbnail sized contact prints, which were scrawled over with scratches and notes, not to mention the overall effects of aging.
But with more than 600 hours spent retouching these photos, the results have been brought back to how they were originally meant to be viewed. And since the images are coming from the contact sheets rather than published works, it has given the museum an opportunity to sample photographs that may have never been seen otherwise.
For a modern, digital photographer, it makes you wonder if anything similar will be possible with our DNGs, 60 years from now.