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.