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UT's Briscoe Center acquires the archives of Kennedy photographer Jacques Lowe

Michael Barnes
Austin American-Statesman
Lyndon B. Johnson, Robert F. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy confer in this photo by Jacques Lowe, whose archive has been acquired by the Briscoe Center at the University of Texas.

The Briscoe Center for American History has acquired the prized archives of photographer Jacques Lowe, best known for his images of the Kennedy family, including scenes from John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign and his first year in the White House.

“This acquisition was more than a few years in the making," said Don Carleton, director of the Briscoe Center at the University of Texas, "if you consider that I first met Jacques Lowe in the late 1990s, and we discussed his archive before his death."

Lowe died May 12, 2001.

The Lowe collection covers his entire career as a photojournalist and portrait artist, with close to 6,000 prints, more than 2,000 contact sheets, almost 5,000 negatives, and hundreds of pieces of ephemera, including publications, correspondence and equipment. 

Photographer Jacques Lowe contributed to the public's perception of the Kennedy family, including  first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

“The Briscoe Center has amassed the single most significant collection of photojournalism from the latter half of the 20th century,” said Lawrence Schiller, the renowned photographer and film producer who was instrumental in establishing the Lowe Archive at the center. “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.”

Born in 1930 in Germany, Lowe spent World War II in hiding because of his Jewish heritage. He emigrated to the United States after the war and won a Life magazine contest for young photographers in 1951. He met Robert F. Kennedy during a journalism assignment and they became friends. In 1958, Joseph Kennedy Sr. drafted Lowe to record JFK's 1960 bid for the presidency. 

“It is hard to overstate the importance of Lowe’s work in shaping the public image of the Kennedy family," Carleton said. "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.”

Bobby Kennedy and his son, David, as captured by photographer Jacques Lowe in 1958.

Distraught by the deaths of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, Lowe moved back to Europe and took up art direction. He returned to the U.S. in the 1980s and became premium portrait photographer.

His archives road to Austin took a detour on Sept. 11, 2001 — just months after Lowe's death  — when the attack on the World Trade Center destroyed the primary cache of Lowe's precious images. His family spent years reconstructing the collection materials stored in other locations.

"His family managed his estate after he died, but as time passed, they were interested in finding a home for his work that would keep the collection safe and more importantly provide access to students and researchers, Carleton says. "Fortunately, Larry Schiller was aware of our work in documentary photography and knows many of the photojournalists whose archives are in our care. He helped direct the family to the Briscoe Center, and we’re delighted to be the official home of Lowe’s entire archive.”

Michael Barnes writes about the people, places, culture and history of Austin and Texas. He can be reached at mbarnes@statesman.com.