Feature

Louis Fabian Bachrach Jr.

The photographer who put the powerful at ease

Louis Fabian Bachrach Jr.
1917–2010

The first time that Louis Fabian Bachrach Jr. photographed John F. Kennedy, in 1959, the shoot didn’t go too well. “I worked like hell for an hour, but I didn’t get anything,” Bachrach later recounted. “He had a bad back, you know. I realized afterward it must have hurt him when he stood, and it showed in his face.” But a second shoot was conducted a few months later, and the image that resulted was ultimately chosen by Kennedy as his official presidential portrait.

Born in Newton, Mass., Bachrach represented the third generation of Bachrachs to enter the family photography business, said The New York Times. His paternal grandfather, David Bachrach, founded the business in Baltimore in 1868, five years after he photographed Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address. Louis, who learned the business and craft from his own father, photographed his share of presidents, too. He also shot “luminaries in the arts, sports, business, and politics,” including Muhammad Ali, Julia Child, Robert Frost, and Haitian dictator Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier. The day Duvalier was deposed, angry crowds stormed the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince and burned Bachrach’s portrait of him.

Bachrach graduated from Har­vard in 1939, with a degree in European history. After serving in the U.S. Navy in World War II, he returned to the family business, where he helped develop the studio’s “signature style of dignity and polish,” said The Boston Globe. He also mastered the art of putting busy, impatient people at ease, conversing knowledgeably on everything from baseball to meteorology to home improvement. “He had a way of calming and disarming distant figures and producing photographs that were respectful of power without being reverential.”

In a career spanning more than 60 years, during which he photographed hundreds of celebrities, politicians, and socialites, not to mention thousands of brides and grooms, Bachrach admitted that there was one subject he regretted not having had the chance to photograph: Sophia Loren.

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