Presidential photographers are afforded access to their subjects that most journalists only dream of. Pete Souza, David Hume Kennerly, Eric Draper — all are well-known names in the photographic community for their day in, day out documentation of the White House. Part journalist, part historian and part public-relations agent, the president’s official photographer chronicles both the official and the private workings of some of the most public men in the world.
The beauty of the job is that the photographer — spending nearly every waking second with the Commander-in-Chief, photographing cabinet meetings, foreign trips and ‘off the record’ family events — needn’t decide whether a given moment is important: instead, the official photographer records everything, letting history ascribe significance to the people and instances locked away in the images of the presidential archive.
But what happens when that archive is destroyed? That’s precisely what happened to some 40,000 negatives of the Kennedy family made by Jacques Lowe. Hired two years before JFK entered office, Lowe was charged with documenting the Kennedy family. Just 28 years old when he started in 1958, Lowe chronicled Kennedy’s Senate re-election campaign, his first years as president and the family’s frequent breaks from the spotlight in Hyannis Port, Mass. and McLean, Va. His images strongly shaped and influenced the public perception of the era that would come to be known as Camelot.
“There are no words to describe how attached my father was to his Kennedy negatives,” writes Thomasina Lowe, Jacques’ daughter, in the introduction to Remembering Jack, a book published in 2003 on the 40th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. “They defined who he was as a person and as a photographer. Those images were priceless, their value beyond calculation. So he stored them in a fireproof bank vault in the World Trade Center.”
Estate of Jacques Lowe
Jacques Lowe at work
Lowe’s original negatives were destroyed on September 11th, 2001, during the terror attacks on the World Trade Center. But miraculously, some 1,500 of Lowe’s contact sheets and prints from the Kennedy file escaped destruction, stored safely at another facility in New York City.
A new exhibition at the Newseum in Washington D.C. highlights 170 of the salvaged images. Restoring them to recognition, however, was far from easy: a team of seven imaging specialists spent more than 600 hours diligently bringing to life iconic images from fading contact sheets, unpolished work prints and creased proofs.
Indira Williams Babic, the senior manager of visual resources at the museum, explained her team’s exhaustive process to TIME.
“There wasn’t anything first-generation that we could work off of,” she said. “We pored through around 40,000 images, give or take.” Pairing down the initial selection to around 1,000 images, Babic then sorted the photographs into smaller groups by content or location.
After this initial inventory, the Newseum’s design team began to figure out what the show would look like. These decisions dictated the specific restoration challenges ahead, e.g, if the design team wanted 60-inch prints from a 1-inch contact proof covered in pen markings and scratches.
“You know it’s going to be incredibly challenging,” Babic explains, “not to make it look artsy and beautiful, but the way it was supposed to look. We’re a news museum, so at the top of the list, we have to respect the photojournalist and his vision. We’ll make it big, make it beautiful, but make it real — that was the tough part.”
Many of the contact sheets were marked with scratches and printing notes. Babic points to the paradox of finding one of Lowe’s particularly-recognizable images amongst the thousands: the best photographs frequently had the worst damage. More often than not, the iconic frames on the contact sheets were covered with the photographer’s writing or surrounded by an excited scribbled circle. Every inch of stray pen mark could add numerous days to the restorationist’s workload.
Babic described the process as a dance — restoring the recognizable frames that the public expects from Lowe while also remaining realistic about what could be salvaged from the limited sizes of the original proofs.
And even after the team “restored” an image, the team often wasn’t satisfied. In some cases, they started the process over — even after hours of work — when the quality of restoration didn’t feel quite right. “You can click on white specks only so many times…but we didn’t give up,” Babic jokes.
A Newseum staff member installs a framed gallery print of John F. Kennedy in the exhibit, “Creating Camelot: The Kennedy Photography of Jacques Lowe,” opening April 12.
Restoring from contact sheets also had this unique advantage: the images immediately surrounding the iconic frame often provided important historical details that the team could use as references. Rather than guessing about a detail that might have been obscured on a well-known image, the team was able to verify objects hidden beneath a scratch or a pen mark by comparing the picture to other, nearby frames.
Thus, more than a decade after the single most horrific and memorable day in modern American history, and just over 50 years after the short, legendary JFK presidency, important pictures that might have been lost to history have, in a sense, been pulled from the ashes.
Creating Camelot: The Kennedy Photography of Jacques Lowe is on view at the Newseum in Washington D.C. from April 12 through January 5, 2014.
The year 2012 is coming to an end today and I’m sure you have seen plenty of ‘best of ‘ lists already (If you haven’t, you can find a lot of them here), but I couldn’t resist adding one more by sharing my selection of top ten photographs of the year. Trying to make such a tight edit of all the great photojournalism I’ve seen this year was challenging, but I thought ten was a good round number. So here are the top photographs of 2012, as chosen by me, in chronological order.
Lorenzo Meloni’s photograph of two menacing looking militiamen, one in shades and one wearing a balaclava, patrolling the streets of Benghazi in January 2012 stuck in my mind as soon as I saw The Telegraph Magazine run it double truck in May (The tearsheet here). The picture perhaps gains certain extra power also from the fact that we know what went on in Benghazi later on the year.
Photo © Lorenzo Meloni
Libya. January 2012. – Militiamen patrolling the streets of Benghazi.
Stephanie Sinclair had a great photo essay on Yemen in National Geographic magazine’s September issue (See it here). One of the last photographs of the feature is of a young boy without eyes, cradled by his mother, of whom we don’t see much more than the very body parts the son is missing. Sinclair’s photo, reminiscent of Samuel Aranda’s World Press Photo of the Year 2011, is powerful in how it shows not only trauma but also love and care.
Photo © Stephanie Sinclair
Yemen. March 2012. – Cradled by his mother, Saleem al Hazari lost both eyes to a sniper. The 12-year-old was shot when he joined antigovernmental protesters in Sanaa in 2011.
I find Dominic Nahr’s Sudan photo of a soldier lying immersed in oil in Heglig, one of the most striking images of the past year, not only visually but contextually, capturing something very essential of the conflict the two Sudans had in the oil-rich region. (See the photograph larger here)
Photo © Dominic Nahr – Magnum for TIME
Sudan. 17 April 2012. – A soldier of the northern regime’s army, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), lies dead, immersed in oil next to a leaking petroleum facility after heavy fighting with southern SPLA troops after they entered Heglig.
Timothy Fadek had a photo essay on Greece’s economic turmoil on the Foreign Policy website in June (See the series here. NB You might have to create a free login.). The opening picture of drug addicts shooting up in broad daylight shows in strong detail one of the more extreme examples of the human toll the country’s downturn has caused.
Photo © Timothy Fadek
Athens, Greece. May 2012. – Scenes from a failing economy. Heroin addicts shoot up behind the Athens Cultural Centeron Akademias Street in central Athens.
Egypt has continued to play a big role in the international news. In June, Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsy was announced as the winner of Egypt’s first democratic presidential election. Below frame, by Daniel Berehulak, of Egyptians celebrating Morsy’s election win, is the one picture with its flags and fireworks, that I remember the most. (See it larger here.)
Photo © Daniel Berehulak – Getty Images
Cairo, Egypt. 24 June 2012.- Egyptians celebrate the election of their new president Mohamed Morsy in Tahrir Square.
Pete Souza has been doing incredible work documenting President Obama’s first term, and it’s difficult to choose his best photo from this past year, but I thought the below picture of Obama sitting in a White House cabinet meeting is an extraordinarily quirky portrayal of the President, taken from an unusual view-point. It shows little more than the chair with a badge identifying who it belongs to, and the President”s back of the head . But I’m sure the head (and the ears!) would be recognisable even without the badge on the chair, but the metal tag does give an air of authority. Amusingly, The Obama campaign tweeted the photo after Clint Eastwood’s infamous empty chair speech at the RNC, with the words ‘This seat’s taken’. I also like how the roundness of the President’s head matches the curves on the wall on the other side of the room.
Photo © Pete Souza / The White House
Washington D.C., United States. 26 July 2012. – A view from behind of the President as he holds a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House.
Nicole Tung did several trips to Syria in 2012 to document the civil war there. Time Lightbox showcased her work on number of occasions. The opening picture of her Aleppo photo essay ‘A Syrian Tragedy: One Family’s Horror’ shows a horrific scene of a group of men carrying a 15-year-old boy, Hatem, who had been trapped under a rubble following an airstrike on 6 August. Hatem later died in the hospital. His father, mother, younger brother and sister and two younger cousins were also killed in the same attack.
I and Olivier Laurent interviewed Nicole Tung about her work later the same month. You can read the interview here.
Photo © Nicole Tung
Aleppo, Syria. 6 August 2012. – Men carry Hatem Qureya, 15, after he was trapped under rubble following an airstrike in the neighborhood of Bustan al-Qasr in Aleppo, Syria.
Moises Saman has been doing terrific work in Cairo throughout the year. Above, I shared Daniel Berehulak’s picture of Egyptians celebrating their new president. Saman’s photo below shows a very different kind of flag-waving scene, this from the anti-Muslim YouTube video sparked riots directed at the U.S. Embassy in Egypt’s capital. Antonin Kratochvil once said ‘every photographer should have their own version of The Scream’, referring to the similarity of one of his own pictures to the famous Munch painting. If that’s true, I believe Moises Saman now has his. I can see and feel, real raw energy in the young man’s scream below. (See the picture larger here.)
Photo © Moises Saman – Magnum
Cairo, Egypt. September 2012. – Protestors shout and raise a flag above a burned-out car near the clashes.
I’ve seen two versions of the below scene. One by Narciso Contreras, whose coverage of the Syrian civil war has probably been the strongest and most comprehensive of any photographer out there, and the one seen here by Javier Manzano. Both are striking photographs, but I just happen to prefer the Manzano one, perhaps as the rays of light are slightly more pronounced in his photo due to the darker exposure.
Photo © Javier Manzano / AFP
Aleppo, Syria. 18 October 2012. – Two Syrian rebels take sniper positions at the heavily contested neighborhood of Karmal Jabl in central Aleppo.
Out of all the photographs done done during hurricane Sandy and its aftermath, there’s no question in my mind that Iwan Baan’s aerial photograph of the Manhattan powercut, which ran on the cover of the New York Magazine, was the most remarkable and memorable. You can read about the shoot here.
Photo © Iwan Baan
New York City, United States. 1 November 2012. – Superstorm Sandy aerial shot of Manhattan powercut.
“I find it an amazing idea that a volume of photographs, even one from the distant past, can explode into life at any time, when stumbled upon by a sympathetic reader.”
—Martin Parr, from his introduction to The Photobook: A History, Vol. 1 (Phaidon 2004)
The photobook long ago broke free of the confines of the coffee table, and has become not only an essential tool in tracking the history of photography, but one of countless means by which we see the medium continually pushed to (and beyond) its traditional limits. The art of the photobook in 2012 remained astonishingly vibrant, with new voices and visions brought to light by daring publishers and—even more encouragingly—by innumerable self-publishing ventures funded by the likes of Kickstarter and Emphas.is.
With peers and colleagues around the globe, we gladly lined up to discover new titles and new artists presented at events like the New York Art Book Fair, Offprint Paris and the International Photobook Festival, among countless other new fairs.
On LightBox we covered exciting projects across myriad genres, from the epic War/Photography catalog to more personalized, micro projects compiled by the Indie Photobook library. Here, in this gallery, we spotlight the best photobooks of the past year as chosen by photographers and photography experts from around the world … and, of course, by photo editors from TIME.
This year’s offerings range from enormous, luxe tomes like Taschen’s Her Majesty to smaller, more intimate works like J&L’s BABE. Overall the selection confirms — in a heartening way, for all of us — that even as unwieldy maelstroms of information emerge from all of our digital devices, many of us still enjoy being transfixed, or transported, by an encounter with a singular vision. After all, the pleasure and quiet thrill that one gets sitting down with a good book — especially one that pushes the boundaries of the format — simply can’t be reproduced in mere ones and zeroes. In that spirit of celebrating a still-vital art form, we humbly offer our take on the photobooks we loved most in 2012.
Clint Eastwood’s appearance and speech to an empty chair at the GOP convention stupefied us, Felix Baumgartner’s jump from 24 miles above the Earth astounded us and Gabby Douglas’ Olympic performance thrilled us. But now that it’s on the wane, we can step back and report that, all in all, 2012 held relatively few major surprises. Perhaps one reason for the year’s ho-hum factor is that several long-anticipated events — the Mars Curiosity rover landing; the London Olympics; the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee; the U.S. elections — set a tone of predictability for a year that, in large part, failed to ignite.
Granted, there were some genuine scandals, which always raise eyebrows (if not the level of national discourse): the Petraeus affair, Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace and pictures of a naked royal prince gallivanting with friends — in Vegas, of all places.
In front of the ubiquitous TV cameras, Angelina Jolie courted publicity at the Oscars, while Rihanna and Chris Brown shamelessly courted controversy everywhere. That it was all so baldly contrived hardly stopped the media from buying right into it.
A calculated, cautious and utterly uninspiring American presidential campaign contrasted with the hope and optimism of four years ago. The promise of the Arab Spring gave way to protests against the new government in Egypt, a deadly attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi and a bloody civil war in Syria that shows no signs of a resolution.
The surprises, when they did come, were brutal shocks rather than thrilling or uplifting wonders. The shooting death of Trayvon Martin and the movie theater rampage in Aurora, Colo., left us three parts numb and one part seething with a kind of violent despair.
We marked solemn anniversaries, like the 100th year since the sinking of the Titanic and the 50th since the death of Marilyn. Mick, Keith and the rest of the Stones kept rolling to mark their own 50th anniversary, but they did so with an utterly foreseeable bombast.
It was left to a Korean YouTube sensation riding an invisible horse to truly surprise and entertain us this year. But even then the novelty and fun rapidly wore thin, as Psy tributes from the likes of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, Eaton school boys and countless others lay siege to the Internet.
And yet … in the face of what can really only be called a rather disappointing year, TIME presents a gallery of images from the past twelve months that did, despite everything, manage to surprise us: pictures that, we hope and trust, will in some small way redress the flaws of a year that, despite spectacles as wondrous as a man falling to earth from space and a Hollywood icon chatting with a chair, ultimately fell a little flat.
Obama’s in the news a lot, partly because he’s kind of in charge of the world, and partly because he’s outrageously photogenic. Bear in mind it takes a lot more than good-looks to be photogenic — being completely comfortable in your own skin, having great style and being in interesting places helps a lot too, which in Obama’s case is not difficult.
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Technology has given us an incredibly wide-ranging view of modern presidents; chief White House photographer Pete Souza’s images of Barack Obama show him in countless locations and situations, from meetings in the Oval Office to candid shots of the president eating ice cream with his daughters on vacation.
The photo archive of Abraham Lincoln, the subject of this week’s cover story, is a much smaller set due to the technological limitations of the time; most of the existing photographs of the 16th president are posed portraits, the majority of which only show Lincoln from the chest up—and all are black-and-white.
But TIME commissioned Sanna Dullaway to create a more vibrant document of Lincoln through a series of colorized photographs produced in Photoshop. After removing spots, dust and scratches from archival Lincoln photographs, Dullaway digitally colorizes the files to produce realistic and modern versions of the portraits, which look like they could have been made today.
The 22-year-old Swedish artist began colorizing images in January 2011, when she was listening to the debut album by rock band Rage Against the Machine. The self-titled album’s cover art is a black-and-white picture of a self-immolating monk taken by AP photographer Malcolm Browne. “I thought the normally fiery flames looked so dull in black and white, so I…looked for a way to make them come alive,” she says. Dullaway colorized the flames, and eventually, the entire picture. She then posted the image on Reddit, and it instantly went viral.
Since that first experiment, Dullaway has continued to colorize a wide range of historical figures, including Albert Einstein, Che Guevara and Teddy Roosevelt, each of which has generated viral buzz online. She’s also used the approach on a number of iconic photographs, such as Eddie Adams’ harrowing image of a Vietnam police officer the moment before he’s about to execute a Vietcong prisoner. In each of these renderings, Dullaway’s use of color is subtle and sophisticated—yielding images that maintain the photographic integrity of their originals, while presenting a look at how these photographs may have come out had color photography existed at the time. That nuanced ability to handle color runs in the family; Dullaway’s father is painter.
The images take anywhere from 40 minutes to three hours to produce, and for the young artist, it’s a way of bringing a contemporary perspective to older works. “History has always been black and white to me, from the World War I soldiers to the 1800s, when ladies wore grand but colorless dresses,” Dullaway says. “By colorizing, I watch the photos come alive, and suddenly the people feel more real and history becomes more tangible.”
Lincoln is at the heart of her next project, a book of Civil War images rendered in color. “I felt like it was a good place to start because the war is well documented in the Library of Congress and started roughly around the same time the camera was first used commercially,” Dullaway says. “And a war offers to chance to cover many subjects at once, and present the events of that time as our eyes would see it today—in color.”
Sanna Dullaway is a photo editor based in Sweden. See more of her work here.
Victoria Mitchell of VIC clears the water steeple during the Womens 3000 Metre Steeple Open during day two of the Australian Athletics Championships at Lakeside Stadium on April 14, 2012 in Melbourne, Australia. North Korean people hold up plastic flowers during an unveiling ceremony of two statues of former leaders Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung [...]
How did Doug Mills get Thursday's front-page photo? It took permission, preparation and a fern.
SKIING THROUGH: Around 12,000 competitors skied along near Maloja, Switzerland, during the annual Engadin Ski Marathon Sunday. (Alessandro Della Bella/Keystone/Associated Press)
DOTING ON DALI: People attended the ‘Dali. An Artist, a Genius’ exhibit at the Vittoriano complex in Rome Saturday. (Donatella Giagnori/Eidon Press/Zuma Press)
CONTINUING CONFLICT: Schoolgirls took cover Monday in Ashdod, Israel, during a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip. At least 23 Palestinians have been killed—including at least five on Monday—in four days of cross-border attacks. No Israeli casualties have been reported. (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)
IMPORTANT CALL: President Barack Obama spoke with Afghan President Hamid Karzai outside the Jane E. Lawton Community Recreation Center in Chevy Chase, Md., Sunday. Mr. Obama said he is ‘deeply saddened’ by the killing of 16 Afghan civilians, allegedly by a U.S. soldier. (Pete Souza/Reuters)
MISSED SHOT: University of North Carolina’s P.J. Hairston and coach Roy Williams left the court after Hairston’s last-second shot to tie an NCAA basketball game fell short, giving Florida State an 85-82 victory in the Atlantic Coast Conference men’s tournament in Atlanta Sunday. (Robert Willett/The News & Observer/Associated Press)
TENSE TIMES? Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker put his hands around the neck of Spain Economy Minister Luis de Guindos as Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager watched during a meeting of euro-zone ministers in Brussels Monday. Spain’s deficit was on the agenda. (Virginia Mayo/Associated Press)