As the 40th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy approaches, two new books have added dimension to the history of the Kennedy era. One book recovered archival material that had been destroyed; the other examined archives that few people knew existed.
The first book represents a story of perseverance in the face of disaster.
In February of 2002, Thomasina Lowe went to an appointment with banking executives, hoping to find forty thousand photographic negatives which her father had valued so highly that he protected them with passionate care.
"He actually went to the expense of buying a separate plane ticket so that he could have the negatives in his briefcase, sitting next to him," she said. "He wasn't going to let anyone look after them for him."
Ms. Lowe's late father, Jacques Lowe, had been personal photographer to the Kennedy family. Lowe's negatives-most of which had never been seen-represented a painstakingly documented record of the Kennedys. Before he died in May, 2001, Lowe had talked of compiling the best of the photos into a book to coincide with the this year's 40th anniversary of John Kennedy's assassination.
Ultimately, to keep the negatives secure, Lowe had stored them in a safe. The location he chose was in the World Trade Center complex-5 World Trade Center, a nine-story building on the northeast corner of the plaza. The building was severely damaged and had to be demolished following the attacks on the twin towers on September 11, 2001. Lowe's priceless records of one tragic era were buried in the havoc of another.
After months of uncertainty following the cleanup effort on the Trade Center site, Thomasina Lowe was informed that her father's safe had been recovered from the rubble, and she was given an appointment to inspect what remained of the safe.
"It was very hard for me on that day to not have hope that I would recover something," she said. "I wanted to be optimistic."
But because of fires that had smoldered in the complex for days after the attacks, the contents of the metal safes had been subjected to the equivalent of a two thousand degree furnace for several days, according to a spokeperson for J.P. Morgan Chase.
Jacques Lowe's safe was empty, with only a few ashes inside, barely enough to sweep into a small bag-nothing to start the book that Lowe had envisioned.
But rather than concede to a devastating circumstance, the Lowe family and the book's designers and publishers studied the alternatives. In the absence of negatives, they went through Lowe's prints and contact sheets. Using digital enhancement, they began to reproduce what had been on the lost negatives, often from thumbnail-sized images on the proofs. The results were surprisingly effective.
Hugh Sidey, now a Time contributing editor, had covered John Kennedy since Kennedy's days in the Senate. He wrote text to place the photos in perspective. Sidey knew Jacques Lowe and understood the significance of what Lowe's photos had captured.
"It was just a matter of a few months…when Kennedy went from relatively obscurity to being … the glamorous Presidential candidate," Sidey said. "And Jacques' pictures played a huge role in that."
The Kennedys had taken Lowe into their family circle in the late 1950's-understanding the growing influence of the media in the mid 20th Century, and the importance of the intimate images that Lowe could take with his 35MM camera.