Photo courtesy of Bachrach Photography
John F. Kennedy was a US senator the first time Louis Fabian Bachrach Jr. photographed him. The session satisfied neither man; and Kennedy looks visibly uncomfortable in the photos.
"I worked like hell for an hour, but I didn't get anything; I bombed out," he told the Globe in 1985. "He had a bad back, you know. I realized afterwards that it must've hurt him when he stood, and it showed in his face."
After Kennedy was elected president, Mr. Bachrach went to the White House for a second try and was not dissuaded when he was told the sitting had been cancelled.
"I went in to see his secretary and said, 'Please, don't do this to me. I've come all the way from Boston,'" Mr. Bachrach said in the 1985 interview. "I waited for Kennedy for eight hours. When he arrived, he wasn't too pleased that I was there. He gave me only 10 minutes, but I had the pose all figured out beforehand -- a sitting pose. It became his official portrait."
Mr. Bachrach, whose portrait of Kennedy was one of many iconic images he shot as part of the third generation to run his family's photography business, died Friday in Newton-Wellesley Hospital, the place where he was born. He was 92 and lived in Newton his entire life.
Photographing everyone from brides to business leaders and heads of state, Mr. Bachrach created enduring images in a career that spanned nearly 60 years.
Returning to his family's business after serving in the Navy during World War II, Mr. Bachrach hoped "to give a truthful ring to all the extravagant things they were saying about me in our advertising," he wrote in 1954 for his Harvard class report. "People still ask me, 'Do you actually know how to take pictures yourself?' I don't know what they think I have been trying to learn all these years."
He added: "Once you get into it it is really good fun and never boring, and the best part of it is that you get paid for doing something you enjoy."
Just as appealing to Mr. Bachrach was the family tradition. He learned photography from his father and, in turn, taught his two sons.
"He loved photography," said his son Louis III, who is known as Chip and lives in Ashland. "Growing up in the house, we used to talk about photography from when my brother and I were young. By the time Robert and I were in our teens, we knew how to photograph a guy who had a long nose or was pudgy or bald. It was a marvelous education."
"I worked with him side by side for many years, and he was always a very generous teacher," said Robert, who lives in Holliston. "And he taught me some philosophies for dealing with people that stuck with me -- almost a philosophy of life. One of those was always put yourself in the other person's shoes."
Part of the art of portrait photography, Chip Bachrach said, is getting the subject to relax and forget what the photographer is doing. He said his father, well-versed in many topics, was a master at disarming his clients.
"It's very important to, what we call in the trade, 'hide the knife in a rose,' " Chip said. "A good photographer can talk about baseball or meteorology or home improvement. He can talk about subjects from Italian literature to mathematics to scientific theory. He can make conversation with anybody and make it a real conversation. I think my father was really great at that."
Mr. Bachrach grew up in Newton, part of a family that traced its photography work to the Civil War.
The family launched its business in a Baltimore studio in the late 1860s, about five years after a publication sent Mr. Bachrach's grandfather, David, to photograph President Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address.
Louis Fabian Bachrach Sr., the eldest of David's children, moved the studio to Boylston Street in 1914 and opened dozens of branches across the country. The family closed many distant studios during the Great Depression, but Bachrachs continued to photograph each president.
Mr. Bachrach graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H., and majored in European history at Harvard, from which he graduated in 1939.
He married Janice Daugherty in 1941 in Omaha, where she was from. She died June 1988.
In 1942, he was commissioned an ensign in the Navy and was a flight instructor in Florida before serving in the Pacific.
He returned to his family's business in 1945, working with his brother, Bradford, and their father. The studio in Copley Square was a destination for business executives, brides, and affluent families who could afford the cost of a Bachrach portrait.
About midway through his term in office, President George H.W. Bush invited Mr. Bachrach and his two sons to the White House. While the Bachrachs set up their equipment for the photography session in the Oval Office, the president had an aide retrieve from elsewhere in the White House a tinted black and white photograph of his wife, Barbara, that was taken in the Bachrachs family's studio in 1945, when she was a bride.
Gregarious at work and in social situations, Mr. Bachrach found many puns irresistible. His tastes, meanwhile, ran from elegant to commonplace.
"I don't think he ever drove a car that wasn't the cheapest on the lot," Chip said.
College was another matter, Chip said, and Mr. Bachrach "made sure all of his children were well-educated."
Mr. Bachrach took pleasure in gardening and reading history, and was particularly devoted to all things Italy -- the food, the culture, and the language, which he learned to speak. In the mid-1980s, he received a master's in Italian literature from Boston College.
In 1989, Mr. Bachrach married Eleanor Volk, and he continued working until retiring at 80.
Louis Bachrach Sr. informally split the photography assignments between his sons, designated Mr. Bachrach as the photographer of men and the Bradford as the photographer as women, but the brothers occasionally worked in each other's areas.
Asked in 1985 if there was anyone he wished he had photographed, Mr. Bachrach paused to consider, then smiled.
"Sophia Loren," he said.
In addition to his wife and two sons, Mr. Bachrach leaves two daughters, Pamela of Russell and Gretchen of Arlington; a sister, Jeanne Kimball of Nashville; nine grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on March 14 at the First Unitarian Society in West Newton.
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