The Kennedy Photography of Jacques Lowe

April 15 – August 27, 2017 – Special Exhibition Gallery

Creating Camelot: The Kennedy Photography of Jacques Lowe features intimate, behind-the-scenes images of John F. Kennedy, his wife, Jacqueline, and their children, Caroline and John, taken by Kennedy’s personal photographer, Jacques Lowe. The traveling exhibit was created by the Newseum, the interactive museum of news in Washington, D.C., in collaboration with the Jacques Lowe estate.

Lowe was 28 when he met the Kennedys in 1958 and was hired as the family’s personal photographer. His extraordinary access to Kennedy’s private and public life allowed him to photograph events that others could not. Over the next three years, he shot more than 40,000 images of the couple and their children. His insider status “produced the most amazingly intimate photographs of a president ever taken,” said The New York Times. 

Kennedy — just 43 when he was elected — was the first president born in the 20th century. He embraced the growing power of television and the importance of image in politics. Kennedy gave Lowe unprecedented access because he knew that supplying the news media with carefully crafted photos was an increasingly important tactic in the art of influencing voters. Lowe’s photographs helped shape Kennedy’s image in the news media, enhanced his popularity and captured the public’s imagination. Lowe’s photos span from Kennedy’s 1958 U.S. Senate re-election campaign through his early years in the White House. It was Lowe’s iconic images that helped create the legend of the Kennedy presidency that later became known as Camelot.

The original negatives of nearly all of the 70 images displayed in Creating Camelot were lost forever in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Lowe, who died in May 2001, had stored his negatives of more than 40,000 Kennedy photos in a bank vault in the basement of Building Five of the World Trade Center. All of the negatives in the vault were lost in the attacks, with the exception of 10 negatives out on loan at the time.

The only existing images from the lost negatives were on Lowe’s contact sheets and prints, which fortunately had been stored in another New York City facility. The Newseum, working closely with the Lowe estate, digitally restored the images to museum quality for the exhibit. Imaging technicians in the Newseum’s exhibits department digitally scanned the surviving contact sheets and prints, which were never meant to be used in place of negatives for printmaking, and spent more than 600 hours working to remove scratches, dust and other blemishes from the images. The restoration work creates a comprehensive digital archive of Lowe’s Kennedy photographs and enables the display of the photos at a resolution and size at which they have never before been seen.

A large touch-screen monitor in the Creating Camelot exhibit allows visitors to view more than two dozen of Lowe’s original contact sheets, including the editing marks that indicate which images Lowe selected for publication in various newspapers and magazines. The exhibit also includes an original film about Jacques Lowe and the Kennedy family.

Highlights include:

  • A candid photo from Lowe’s first session showing the Kennedys’ daughter, Caroline, playing with her mother’s pearls.
  • A photo of Kennedy in profile attending a press conference in Omaha, Neb., which was widely used in campaign materials, including posters and campaign buttons.
  • Sen. and Mrs. Kennedy sitting unrecognized in an Oregon diner during the early presidential campaign.
  • Kennedy’s favorite photo from the campaign, showing the candidate and his wife standing virtually alone on an Oregon airstrip.
  • Lowe’s favorite photo of Kennedy, looking despondent after failing to connect with blue-collar voters in Oregon.
  • Kennedy offering Lyndon Johnson the vice presidency as his brother Robert looks on in disapproval.
  • Crowds of supporters mobbing the candidate as the campaign reaches its climax.
  • A group portrait of the Kennedy clan, hastily organized by Lowe following Kennedy’s election.
  • Photos of Kennedy’s glamorous inaugural festivities.
  • Intimate photos of the Kennedys relaxing at their home in Hyannis Port, Mass.
  • President Kennedy reacting to the news of the assassination of Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba.
  • Caroline Kennedy playing in the White House.
  • First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in Paris.
  • Kennedy’s Vienna summit with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev.
  • A rare photo of the first lady smoking and drinking at a party in London.
  • Portraits of Jacqueline Kennedy, which were used on the covers of major magazines.

Original artifacts featured in the exhibit include:

  • Magazines of the period featuring Lowe’s photographs, including Look, Paris Match, Ladies’ Home Journal and Newsweek.

FAQ: Digital Photo Restoration for Creating Camelot: The Kennedy Photography of Jacques Lowe

To produce the photos displayed in “Creating Camelot: The Kennedy Photography of Jacques Lowe,” the Newseum digitally scanned and restored more than 70 images to their original color, content and clarity using prints and contact sheets from the estate of Jacques Lowe, John F. Kennedy’s personal photographer. The photos could not be reproduced from the original negatives because Lowe’s negatives had been stored in a vault in the World Trade Center complex in New York and were lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The exhibit marks the first time that many of these images have been seen in their original condition in nearly 50 years.

What happened to Lowe’s original negatives?
Lowe, who died in May 2001, made more than 40,000 photos of the Kennedy family. He stored the negatives in a bank vault at 5 World Trade Center in New York. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the building that held the vault was demolished. The safe that held Lowe’s images was found in the rubble months later, but it was empty. All but 10 of the negatives — which were out on loan at the time — were lost.

How did the Newseum acquire the images displayed in the exhibit?
Even though the original negatives of most of the photos were lost, Lowe’s estate still had contact sheets and prints of his images. Working in collaboration with the Lowe estate, the Newseum digitally scanned more than 1,600 contact sheets and prints from Lowe’s Kennedy collection. From those contact sheets and prints, the Newseum selected the photos for “Creating Camelot.”

Why did the Newseum need to restore the photos for the exhibit?
All of the photos in the exhibit had to be reproduced from contact sheets and prints because the original negatives were not available. Some of the contact sheets and prints are more than 50 years old and, as a result, have scratches, tears, markings and some loss of color quality. The Newseum digitally restored the images to remove anything that marred the photos so that Lowe’s photographs could be displayed as close as possible to their original color, content and clarity.

How did the Newseum restore the photos?
Restoring photographic images is a complex process. After digitally scanning more than 1,600 contact sheets and prints of Lowe’s work, the Newseum selected images for the exhibit. Using digital technology and in-house expertise, the Newseum painstakingly cleaned scratches, dust and markings that marred the 50-year-old images. The restored images were then reproduced for “Creating Camelot.” About 30 of the photos were restored and printed from Lowe’s original prints. The remaining images were restored and printed from contact sheets.

How many rarely seen images are on display?
The Newseum had unprecedented access to Lowe’s entire archive of Kennedy images. Among the images selected for the exhibit are 15 rarely seen photographs and more than 20 rarely exhibited contact sheets. Other photos in the exhibit have previously been published in magazines, newspaper and books. The exhibit includes original magazines featuring Lowe’s photos of the Kennedys.

The 15 rarely seen photographs in the exhibit (with their locations):

“The First Photo Session”

  • Color photo of John, Jacqueline and Caroline Kennedy

“Kennedy’s Early Campaign”

  • John F. Kennedy signing campaign posters
  • Jacqueline Kennedy doing a radio interview

“Kennedy Wins the Nomination”

  • Edward R. Murrow interviewing John F. Kennedy before the convention

“The Race to Election Day”

  • Photographers piled into a car during an Illinois campaign appearance

“The Inauguration”

  • Jacqueline Kennedy entering the inaugural gala

“Introducing the First Family”

  • Color photo of Jacqueline and Caroline Kennedy sitting on the grass
  • Color photo of John, Jacqueline and Caroline Kennedy with their dog in the grass
  • Caroline Kennedy riding a toy car with her cousins on a go-kart in Hyannis Port

“The Presidency”

  • Jacqueline Kennedy riding in a car with the first lady of France
  • Jacqueline Kennedy at her niece’s christening party in London

“The Last Photo Shoot”

  • John Kennedy Jr. with his nanny and cousin in Hyannis Port
  • Caroline Kennedy standing on the beach with her cousin in Hyannis Port
  • Caroline Kennedy sitting in the sand with her cousins in Hyannis Port

“Jackie! Jackie! Jackie!”

  • Color photo of Caroline Kennedy on her mother’s lap laughing

All of the contact sheets in the exhibit are considered rare, including those that appear only in the interactive kiosk. These are the contact sheets in the physical display:

“Introducing the First Family”

  • Contact sheet of John, Jacqueline and Caroline Kennedy and their dog in the grass

“The Presidency”

  • Contact sheet showing John F. Kennedy at the White House reacting to the news of the death of Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba

“The Last Photo Shoot”

  • Contact sheet of Caroline Kennedy playing with her cousins in Hyannis Port
  • Contact sheet showing John Kennedy Jr. in Hyannis Port with his nanny

Creating Camelot: The Kennedy Photography of Jacques Lowe was developed by the Newseum in collaboration with the Jacques Lowe Estate. The Newseum, an interactive museum of news, is located in Washington, D.C. newseum.org

Creating Camelot: The Kennedy Photography of Jacques Lowe is sponsored in part by: