University of Texas at Austin

UT Austin's Briscoe Center for American History Acquires Jacques Lowe Photographic Archive

The center said it will announce when the collection is open to researchers

Briscoe Center for American History

The Briscoe Center for American History at The University of Texas at Austin has acquired the Jacques Lowe Photographic Archive.

According to the Briscoe Center, Lowe is best known for his photographs documenting the Kennedy family, notably John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign and his first year in the White House.

The collection spans the entirety of Lowe's career and includes his award-winning portrait photography, as well as editorial, advertising, and corporate work. 

"The Lowe Archive is a significant addition to the center's photojournalism and documentary photography collections," Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center, said. "It is hard to overstate the importance of Lowe's work in shaping the public image of the Kennedy family. However, this collection holds an even greater significance for historical research. Like so many of our photojournalism collections, Lowe's entire career provides critical visual evidence for the study of the recent past."

Lowe was born in Germany in 1930 and emigrated to the United States after spending World War II in hiding due to his Jewish heritage.

After winning a Life magazine contest for young photographers in 1951, he began a career as a photojournalist, working for major print magazines, the Briscoe Center said.

Briscoe Center for American History

He met Robert F. Kennedy during one of his editorial assignments in 1956, and the two became friends.

"Jacques Lowe was a wonderful friend to our family," Kerry Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy's daughter, said. "His photographs capture the magic of my childhood, and we are grateful for his presence in our lives. He played an essential role in telling the story of the Kennedy family in a way that people could easily understand. His beautiful images reflect their belief in service to their country, a commitment to peace and justice, compassion for their brothers and sisters, and devotion to family. It is especially fitting that his work is with the Briscoe Center for American History."

In 1958, Joseph Kennedy Sr. approached Lowe with an offer to photograph the political campaign of his "other son," John F. Kennedy.

That campaign was JFK's successful bid for the presidency in 1960, the Briscoe Center said. Lowe served as the president's personal photographer in 1961, but he ultimately left that position to return to editorial work.

"Jacques Lowe's photographs are an essential piece of the Kennedy legacy," Stephen Kennedy Smith, nephew of John F. Kennedy, said. "His work captured our family's intimate moments, but served a larger purpose. He documented the inner workings of the American political process, from the campaign trail to the White House. We are gratified that his photographs not only will be carefully preserved at the Briscoe Center, but also made available for future generations of students, researchers, and the American people."

According to the Briscoe Center, after the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, a grief-stricken Lowe returned to Europe and abandon photography for art direction.

He returned to the United States and his photo career in the 1980s, becoming one of the most sought-after portrait photographers of the era, the Briscoe Center said.

Lowe published more than 40 books and photographed hundreds of celebrities in the arts, the theater, film, politics, and business before his death in 2001.

Briscoe Center for American History

"While individual prints of Lowe's work can be found in museums and collections across the globe, the Briscoe Center now holds the comprehensive collection of his career," said Carleton. "We have close to 6,000 prints, over 2,000 contact sheets, almost 5,000 negatives, and hundreds of pieces of ephemera, including publications, correspondence, and equipment." 

Lowe had placed his negatives in a vault at the J.P. Morgan bank located in the World Trade Center.

Only a few months after he died, the World Trade Center was destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001. When the safe holding Lowe's negatives was recovered, the contents had been destroyed, the Briscoe Center said.

The Lowe family was able to rebuild his archive from prints, contact sheets, and other materials stored in his New York City loft. 

"My father fully understood that the archive of his life's work was an irreplaceable treasure," said Victoria Allen, Lowe's daughter. "He would be immensely gratified to know that his full body of work can be found in one place, especially one as prestigious as the Briscoe Center. His work will be safely preserved, but more importantly, it will be in an institution that understands the value of making these photos available for teaching and research."

The Lowe Archive is being processed and is closed to research at this time, the Briscoe Center said.

The center said it will announce when the collection is open to researchers.

"The Briscoe Center has amassed the single most significant collection of photojournalism from the latter half of the twentieth century," Lawrence Schiller, the renowned photographer and film producer who was instrumental in establishing the Lowe Archive at the center, said. "Jacques was a photojournalist at heart, and he would be thrilled that his work is now in the company of so many of his fellow photojournalists."

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