HALF a century on from the era-defining assassination of President John F Kennedy, the story of one of his intimate circle is being told in a new book and a talk at next week’s Henley Literary Festival.
Jacques Lowe became JFK’s official photographer after meeting the then-senator from Massachusetts in 1958, charting his astonishing rise to the position of most powerful man in the world.
Jacques’ heavily illustrated memoir My Kennedy Years, featuring many never-before-seen pictures, was published this week, marking the culmination of a 12-year project by his daughter Thomasina.
Before her father died in May 2001 he had entrusted her as “the keeper of the memories” — the same phrase that John F Kennedy Jr had used to describe Jacques.
That task became much harder, Thomasina explains, after her father’s collection of 40,000 negatives, stored in a safe at the World Trade Center, was destroyed on 9/11, just a few months after his own death.
“When it happened I was in his loft, with my mother, very close to the World Trade Center, and at the back of my mind were the negatives. I considered going down, but my mother looked at me like I was mad. But there would have been no question in my father’s mind — he definitely would have gone down there.”
Against all the odds, the safe was recovered, surprisingly intact, but the contents had all been reduced to ash. Thus began the business of rebuilding the archive, not only for this book but also for major exhibitions in Washington, New York and London.
She said: “It’s something I knew I always wanted to do as I was very close to him and had often seen him work, but this spurred me on.”
The book catalogues Kennedy’s life. In the early days Jacques captured the politician at rallies and making speeches, but as time progressed the photos became more intimate and revealing, showing more of his personality and his close relationships with his wife Jackie. One such famous image is the shot of John and Jackie at an empty diner on the campaign trail.
Having lived in both America and the UK Thomasina is perfectly placed to judge whether, as is so often said, the Kennedys are the nearest thing Americans had to a royal family.
“I think it is true, in a strange way. From their perspective, absolutely. There is a tragic element which makes them seem more human.”
* Thomasina Lowe will appear in conversation at the Town Hall with former Fleet Street photographer Clive Limpkin on Saturday, October 5 at 5.30pm as part of the Henley Literary Festival. For tickets go to the live box office in the Old Fire Station Gallery, September 30 to October 3 and in the Market Place over the weekend.