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Correction to This Article
The March 7 obituary of Fabian Bachrach incorrectly reported that a surviving daughter, Gretchen Bachrach, lives in Arlington County. She lives in Arlington, Mass.
Fabian Bachrach, 92

Fabian Bachrach, 92, dies; photographed iconic portraits of presidents

Fabian Bachrach, who died Feb. 26 at age 92, was the third generation of his family to run Bachrach Photography, the oldest portrait studio in the United States. The company was founded in 1868. The family studios have taken photos of every president from Abraham Lincoln to George H.W. Bush, plus countless other celebrities.

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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 7, 2010

Fabian Bachrach, who photographed presidents, kings, celebrities, and thousands of businessmen and brides as the proprietor of the country's oldest portrait photography studio, died Feb. 26 of pneumonia at a hospital in Newton, Mass. He was 92.

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Mr. Bachrach and his brother, Bradford, were the third generation of their family to operate Bachrach Photography, which was founded by their grandfather in 1868 and became known for its authoritative portraits of America's leadership class. Most of the studio's work consisted of photographing executives, graduates, babies and brides, but for more than 100 years the Bachrachs also specialized in photographing presidents.

Under difficult circumstances in 1959, Mr. Bachrach created a memorable image of John F. Kennedy that captured the youthful spirit of the president-to-be. Earlier that year, Mr. Bachrach had a studio session with Kennedy, then a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, but Kennedy was troubled by back pain, and the photographs showed it. With persistence and cajolery, Mr. Bachrach managed to schedule a second session at Kennedy's Capitol Hill office.

With Kennedy debating a bill on the Senate floor, his secretary called to cancel the appointment, but Mr. Bachrach showed up with his cameras and lights anyway.

"I said I didn't get the message," he told Boston Business magazine in 1987. "We waited three hours and when Kennedy appeared, he was not particularly pleased to see me."

He had only 10 minutes to snap six images. But one of those photos, in which Kennedy looked directly into the camera, seemed alive with the strength and charisma of his personality. It became Kennedy's official campaign portrait when he ran for president in 1960 and has been reproduced countless times.

"It's really the photograph Jack Kennedy is remembered by," one of Mr. Bachrach's sons, Louis Fabian "Chip" Bachrach III, said last week. "I think Jack Kennedy aged something awful in the three years he was president. Here, he's still a handsome, dashing young man. The world hasn't worn him down that much yet."

Although he came late to photography at 29, Mr. Bachrach helped develop his studio's signature style of dignity and polish, training photographers to emulate the light and mood of painted portraits by Rembrandt and John Singer Sargent.

"What we try to do is tell the truth in kindly terms," Chip Bachrach said. "It's an art form. It's something that's been around for a long time."

Louis Fabian Bachrach Jr. was born April 9, 1917, in Newton and graduated from Harvard in 1939. During World War II, he was a navigator in the naval aviation corps in the Pacific.

His grandfather, David Bachrach, had emigrated from Germany and was an apprentice to photographer Samuel Chase when the Civil War broke out. David Bachrach took the only photograph of Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address, as well as a famous image of the conspirators in the Lincoln assassination being hanged in 1865.

He also managed to get inside the notorious Andersonville prison in Georgia and take heart-rending photographs of emaciated Union captives, many of whom starved to death. His photographs were used as evidence in the trial of Andersonville's commandant, who was convicted of war crimes and executed.


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