Jessica Ferber's 'Rebirth of the Cool' uncovers lost works of Bob Campbell

Sandy Kenyon Image
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Jessica Ferber's 'Rebirth of the Cool' uncovers lost works of Bob Campbell
Entertainment reporter Sandy Kenyon has the latest.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- College student Jessica Ferber discovered a vital chapter of New York City's history that had been hidden away inside the boxes of a man who died homeless in Vermont.

Now, Robert James Campbell's old photos have been published in Ferber's new book, called "Rebirth of the Cool."

They are pictures that time forgot, taken by a gifted photographer who never made a name for himself and lost for half a century until the images were brought to light by a student born decades after they were taken.

"The New York I see in this book is actually a New York I never got to experience," Ferber said.

It is a city frozen in time, a period of seismic change as the 1950s gave way to the 60s.

"There was a lot of political changing and civil rights activism," Ferber said.

Myrlie Evers, the widow of Medgar Evans, graces the pages within a year of his assasination.

"I think it says there was progress, but that there was also defeat happening at the same time," Ferber said.

These photos were taken by Bob "Soupy" Campbell, as he was known, and discovered after he died homeless and without heirs.

"And he left these unknown belongings, commercial photographs, letters, personal things in boxes," Ferber said.

She came upon his material by accident, but organizing it proved very challenging.

"It took a lot of sifting," she said. "And it took a lot of research and a lot of time."

Much of the material was not labeled and the negatives were in poor condition, but after careful restoration, what emerged was a portrait of a lost city worthy of its own book.

"'Rebirth of the Cool' is kind of resurrecting something from the past that was, you know, a time capsule really," she said.

Campbell abruptly stopped taking pictures in the mid 1960s, and like much about him, there is no good explanation for that. But those who value the history of the city owe Ferber a debt of thanks for making sure his unique archive wasn't lost.