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Studio, Pach Brothers

Time Period: 
1867-1980s
Location: 
935 Broadway, 570 Fifth Ave., NYC & 17 branches
Biography: 

The most successful of the diversified photography companies that emerged in the wake of the Civil War, the New York based Pach Brothers Studio pursued every sort of photographic business, from scientific documentation to celebrity portraiture. They gained particular reputation for the portraiture of champion horses, military officers, and Yale undergraduates. Founded in 1867, it remains in operation, the oldest of the major studios in the country.

Gustavus W. Pach (1845-1904) founded the company. Having joined with Turner & Co., a leading commercial photographer, as a fourteen-year old printer in 1861, he mastered other elements of the craft during the photographic boom occasioned by the Civil War. Lung difficulties probably caused by exposure to chemical developers forced him from the city into the New Jersey countryside somtime in 1865. At Toms River, New Jersey, he worked as an itinerant photographer driving a field wagon with its own developing enclosure. In 1867, U.S. Grant, George W. Childs, and Anthony J. Drexel supplied the funds enabling the brothers to establish a studio in Long Branch. In 1872, G.W. Pach relocated the headquarters to Manhattan.The business grew so substantially that G.W. brought his brother Gotthelf (1852-1925) into the business as co-cameraman and brother Oscar Pach (185?-1903) to oversee the books. Pach Brothers was incorporated in 1877.       

General Grant's approval translated into business, as Pach Brothers was appointed photographer to West Point. Generations of U. S. Army officers had their promotion pictures taken by Gustavus or Gotthelf Pach. The West Point connection also gave Pach Brothers entree into the collegiate portraiture market. Opening branches in college towns, Pach Brothers became the portrayer of the Ivy League establishment. Before the turn of the century outposts of the company had been established at Hanover, Cambridge, Williamstown, Amherst, Wellesley, New Haven, West Point, Poughkeepsie, Princeton,  and Easton, with summer offices at the Jersey beach resorts.

Pach brothers specialized in institutional portraiture, society portraiture, with celebrity portraiture running a distant third. It regularly provided official images for government officials in the 1880s and 1890s, but only began serious engagement with theatrical work in the 1890s.  A fascination with Broadway performers was more a hallmark of the second generation of Pachs, after the turn of the 20th century, than the founding generation. The early images were decorous and well printed, with a decided preference for tonal backgrounds over backpaintings of exotic locales.  

As business grew, the company headquarters moved restlessly from location to location in Manhattan, beginning at 858 Broadway in 1872, moving into the larger building at 841 in 1878, and finally settling at 935 Broadway in 1895. A fire on February 16, 1897, destroyed Pach Brothers processing facility at 935-37 Broadway and thirty years of negatives. Insurance covered half of the $20,000 damage done to the studio by fire and water. In 1902, upon the retirement of Gustavus from the firm, the studio redrew its articles of incorporation with Gotthelf and Oscar Pach being joined by J.E. Ryttenberg. The filing listed assets of $50.000. Oscar would live only a year, and shortly before Gustavas's death in 1904, the operation had passed entirely into the hands of the next generation. The studio's management during the 20th century was run by the younger generation of Pachs, with Gotthelf's son, Alfred Pach, directing his cousins, Alexander Pach, who was deaf, and Charles Pach. By talent the person who should have become the principle photographer of the second generation was Gotthelf's son, Walter Pach, but painting entranced him instead, and he became a pioneer of modernism, and a driving force in the staging of the Armory Show in 1913. 

On October 11-23, 1937, Pach Brothers mounted a restrospective exhibition of the firm's portraiture, "American Personalities Through Seven Decades" at the Fifth Avenue studio. In 1949 Alfred Pach died. Certain of the subsidiary photographers working for Pach Brothers developed important reputations, particularly L. Raymond Pratt who headed the New Haven office. In 1960 an exhibit of distinguished Americans shot by Pach Brothers was put on display at Grand Central Station. A substantial collection of Pach Brothers portraits is held by the New York Historical Society.

NOTES: "The Late G. W. Pach," The Photographic Times 36 (1904), 505. "Pach Brothers, Photographers," Illustrated New York (New York, 1888), 163. David S. Shields/ALS

Specialty: 

Gustavus Pach invented dry plate methods of printing and the "flashlight" method of illuminating scenes, using magnesium powder, alcohol, and a blow torch. It would be the prevalent method of lighting theatrical production shots until 1905. Theatrical photography was a subsidiary element of a wider practice of photography, with portraiture prevailing over production shots. During the 1910s and 1920s under second generation director Alfred Pach, the studio excelled in large format images of performers in contemporary clothing.