General Tools Award Committee chair Richard K. Anderson, Jr., announced that Jet Lowe is the winner of the General Tools Award for 2014.
GENERAL TOOLS AWARD for 2014 – Citation read by Richard K. Anderson, Jr.
The General Tools Award was established in 1992 through the generosity of Gerald Weinstein [SIA], chairman emeritus of the board of General Tools Manufacturing, Inc. of New York City, and the Abraham and Lillian Rosenberg Foundation. The Rosenbergs founded General Hardware, the predecessor to General Tools. The award consists of an engraved sculpture (”The Plumb Bob”) and a cash prize.
The recipient of the award is determined by the members of the General Tools Award committee, appointed by the President of the SIA, who serve three-year overlapping terms. Richard Anderson, the 2014 chair of the committee, is completing his third and final year of service, to be followed by Helena Wright. Duncan Hay served as the third committee member this year.
The General Tools Award is the highest honor that the SIA can bestow. The award recognizes individuals who have given sustained, distinguished service to the cause of industrial archeology. Criteria for selection are as follows: (1) The recipient must have given noteworthy, beyond-the-call-of duty service, over an extended period of time, to the cause of industrial archeology. (2) The type of service for which the recipient is recognized is unspecified, but must be for other than academic publication. (3) It is desirable but not required that the recipient be, or previously have been, a member of the SIA. (4) The award may be made only to living individuals.
Often just ahead of salvage crews, the nominee has visually preserved, in context, hundreds of significant industrial sites for the Historical American Engineering Record. His work is often the sole remaining image of what once was, and now is made available to all through the Library of Congress. For over thirty years, he has photographed the monumental and the mundane of American’s industrial past and present, always with an eye to revealing an object’s function, construction, and utility; its very reason for being.
At the beginning of his career in 1978, he brought an aesthetic vision to industrial archeology that was molded by degrees in art history and fine art photography. (He subsequently added an MS in Industrial Archeology from Michigan Tech.) His IA photographs record an industrial place or artifact informed by his knowledge of history and technology. But the completed archival print is likely to be equally successful as a work of art. He has had several gallery shows, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation published a book of his early work, Industrial Eye, in 1986.
Historic industrial spaces are seldom easy to photograph. Our nominee — whose name you may have guessed by now! — has adapted many skills of the photographer’s craft to the extremes of light, volume, and perspective found in the industrial world. But beyond his technical sophistication, he brings to each image an uncompromising search for relevant engineering detail and the ideal point-of-view for the camera. A five-by-seven inch camera, tripod and lens case are big and bulky, but our nominee’s body of work reveals his willingness to haul them to the top of a suspension bridge or cram them inside a machine to “get it right.” He also has perfected using large view cameras for aerial photography where vibration can inhibit sharpness.
As digital photography has crowded out the silver halide technology of the last 175 years, the candidate has worked with the Library of Congress to test digital processes to determine if they meet the longevity demands of archival preservation. He has been an enthusiastic advocate for large-format photography and lends cheerful support to those who want to learn the trade.
His contribution to industrial archeology combines an understanding of the importance of a visual record with artistic appreciation and technical competence. Thousands of his photographs comprise a permanent record for those who want to understand our industrial past. You can see them for yourself in his book, on his website, Jetography, or on the HAER portion of the Library of Congress website.
With great pleasure, we present the 2014 General Tools Award to John T. “Jet” Lowe, IA photographer extraordinaire!