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Bachrach Photography

Matt Schudel

The Bachrach Photography studio, now 142 years old, is the nation's oldest business associated with photography. From its origins in Baltimore in 1868, it has been operated by four generations of the Bachrach family.

David Bachrach, the founder of the company, took the only picture of Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address and began a family tradition of photographing presidents. There have been Bachrach portraits of every president from Andrew Johnson through George H.W. Bush.

David Bachrach's grandson, Louis Fabian Bachrach Jr. -- known professionally as Fabian Bachrach -- died recently at 92, but his family company lives on. It is now run by his son Robert, who worked side-by-side with his father for decades.

"I never felt pressured," Robert told me in a telephone interview Saturday night, after I'd finished writing the obituary, "but what I sensed was the he loved the business. After about a month, I knew that's what I wanted to do."

He added: "If you think it's going to be easy being the son of the boss, you're wrong."

The Bachrach tradition of photography began before Eastman Kodak was founded -- before, in other words, each family had its own camera at home. It has endured the invention of the Brownie camera and now digital cameras and cellphones. But the company lives on, firm in the belief that portrait photography is more of an art form than ordinary snapshot photography could ever be.

For years, Bachrach Photography advertised in the New Yorker and was once memorialized in a New Yorker cartoon.

Through the decades, Bachrach photographers have taken pictures of hundreds of famous political, cultural and business figures, ranging from Teddy Roosevelt to Amelia Earhart to Julia Child to Muhammad Ali. Fabian Bachrach was particuarly known for his famous portrait of John F. Kennedy, taken late at night in Washington in 1959.

Asked once if there was someone he wished he had photographed but hadn't, Mr. Bachrach -- who was enthralled with all things Italian -- said, "Sophia Loren."

By Matt Schudel  |  March 6, 2010; 11:44 PM ET
Categories:  Matt Schudel  
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