A Rare Glimpse
Of Those Fabled 1,000 Days
by Fred A. Bernstein, The New York Times, January 15, 2004
the 40th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination approaching,
Jacques Lowe was thinking about producing a book to mark the
occasion. He had taken 40,000 black-and-white photographs of
the president and other Kennedy family members, and for decades,
he had stored the precious negatives in a vault in a bank in
5 World Trade Center.
Then, in May 2001, Mr. Lowe died of cancer. Four months later,
a fire raged through the bank building as a result of the terrorist
attacks. One of Mr. Lowe's five children, Thomasina, pressed
for the bank to find the safe before it demolished the building.
But when she finally got to look in the safe, in March 2002,
it contained nothing but ashes.
Bob Adelman, a photographer and book packager who had been collaborating
with Mr. Lowe on the Kennedy volume, said, "If the cancer
hadn't killed Jacques, the loss of the negatives would have."
Mr. Adelman assumed that the book project was lost.
That was before the book's art director, Michael Rand, suggested
using a scanner to recreate the photos from contact sheets -
rows of "thumbnails" made directly from negatives,
on fine-grained photographic paper. Unlike the negatives, the
contact sheets were kept in Mr. Lowe's TriBeCa studio, where
they were used to select photos for publication.
Mr. Adelman doubted that technology could turn contact-sheet-size
images (most of them 2¼ by 2¼ inches) into photographs
worthy of a coffee-table book.
But that was before Woodfin Camp, Mr. Lowe's New York-based
agent, delivered several of the contact sheets to the Manhattan
office of Quad Graphics. Quad used its highest-quality upright
drum scanner, an $85,000 machine called the Heidelberg's Prime
Scan 8400, to turn the photos into digital images, at 350 dots
per inch. Then it used Photoshop to match the tones to those
of actual prints made during Mr. Lowe's lifetime.
"I was astounded by what I saw," Mr. Adelman said.
(A convert, he now refers to Photoshop as "a daylight darkroom.")
Encouraged, Mr. Adelman enlisted John Loengard, a former picture
editor of Life magazine, to search through the contact sheets
for publishable images. Mr. Camp then carried the contact sheets
to Quad Graphics, a few at a time (lest too many of the sheets
be out of his sight at once). The process was as much art as
science. Quad's color manager, John O'Brien, and others spent
hundreds of hours over six weeks on the project.
The book, "Remembering Jack: Intimate and Unseen Photographs
of the Kennedys," was published in October (Bulfinch Press,
$45) with text by, among others, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Tom
Wolfe, who was a friend of Mr. Lowe.
Mr. O'Brien said that many of the contact sheets, which had
been handled hundreds of times, were worn, and the images on
them were often under- or overexposed.
"We had to restore them, in some cases recreating historical
detail," he said. "We enhanced areas that were washed-out
images and brought to light others that were obscured in the
darkness." He worked closely with Mr. Adelman, who lives
in Florida. "We'd work on a batch of the files," Mr.
O'Brien said, "then send them out on a disk and get feedback
The largest photos in the book are 8 inches by 10 inches - more
than four times their contact-sheet dimensions. The book also
contains facsimile contact sheets, but given the wear and tear
on the real contact sheets, even those needed Quad's help.
Mr. Lowe did maintain an inventory of conventional prints. Some
of those prints are to be exhibited at Jim Kempner Fine Arts
in Chelsea, beginning on Feb. 12. Ms. Lowe said that prices
would begin around $3,500.
"This may seem like a lot," she said by e-mail, "but
these prints are now very precious as there are no longer any
Thanks to the scanning process, the book contains at least 300
images that had never been printed in a darkroom. Ms. Lowe,
a therapist who lives in London, calls the creation of the book
"a healing process." And now her father's contact
sheets, most of which have never been scanned, are at least
as valuable as the negatives lost on 9/11.