Retrieving A Rare Glimpse
Of Those Fabled 1,000 Days

by Fred A. Bernstein, The New York Times, January 15, 2004

With 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 negatives."

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.



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