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Studio, Apeda

Time Period: 
33 W. 34th St., 102-104 W. 38th St.; 212-216 W. 48th St.; 525 W. 52nd NYC

Alexander W. Dreyfoos (1877-1952)

Apeda was a diversified corporate studio located in New York City and organized in 1906 by partners Alexander W. Dreyfoos and Henry Obstfield. From its organization it pursued two business strategies: shooting original portraiture and reproducing uncopyrighted images by other photographers of newsworthy scenes or celebrities under its own trade name. Dreyfoos was the head photographer and to him goes credit for developing sports portraiture beyond baseball and boxing imagery into a wide-ranging field analogous to theatrical portraiture in its treatment and promotion.

Apeda's primary advantage among the New York metropolitan studios was its possession of industrial photograph developers and postcard printers. Whenever a New York photographer took a shot that they could not reproduce and market themselves or took a photograph that could not be copyrighted because there was no contract between photographer and sitter (the situation of flashlight stills of Broadway plays for instance), Apeda would secure a print, eradicate whatever name or trademark appeared on the print and affixed their own Apeda signature.

In 1912 they began selling copies of White Studio's production stills for "The Chorus Lady," "A Gentleman of Leisure," Gentleman from Mississippi," and "Thais" under the Apeda name. Apeda won the ensuing law suit, White Studio v. Dreyfoos, in a landmark copyright case. The decision rested on the court's understanding of work for hire. If an actor hired White Studio to produce a portrait, there was nothing prohibiting him from going to Apeda to reproduce that image in hundreds of copies at lower cost than White would charge, since the actor himself holds the portrait copyright.  

Like Underwood & Underwood, Apeda would buy up the entire production archive of photographers who had business difficulties or were moving to other parts of the country. Apeda, for instance, bought up the negatives of the Geisler-Andrews firm after the partners split. In the 1920s, Obstfeld surrendered management of the business to Harold Danziger, whose background was in theater management. Dreyfoos remained head photographer, lensing sittings himself, and overseeing a small staff of event photographers and college yearbook portraitists.

During the mid-1930s and 1940s, Apeda left off performing arts work, turning to advertising imagery, industrial photography, high school class portraiture, and Armed Services portraiture. In the later 20th century, it was reorganized as Apco Apeda and operated until the 1990s when its New York headquarters encountered difficulties with the Environmental Protection Agency for chemical pollution. David S. Shields/ALS


The several photographers who contracted for work with Apeda over the years were conversant in every contemporary portrait styles, often imitating signal features of high profile photographers of the day. If there was any discernible ability characteristic of the company's photography, it was the ability to portray the whole body of the subject. While whole body portraiture was normal in sports and dance photography, it grew infrequent in 1920s theatrical portraiture, whole body shots being associated with production stills. Apeda photographers bucked the trend, producing whole body non-production portraiture after it went out fashion in Manhattan.