Renowned Photojournalist Robert Mendelsohn has died at 61.
Social media exploded in Philadelphia early Saturday mourning the loss of renowned photojournalist Robert Mendelsohn. He was 61. His work appeared across various community newspapers, most recently as a Correspondent with The Philadelphia Sunday Sun.
“It is with the deepest sadness in my heart that I let you all know that my brother Robert Mendelsohn has passed away,” his sister Judy Mendelsohn Marcus posted on Facebook.
In February 2013, the Philadelphia Daily News kicked off its Black History Month coverage with Jeniece Armstrong-penned feature “about a white guy, but no other photographer since the late Jack T. Franklin has been all over Black Philadelphia the way Mendelsohn has… He’s been known to squeeze a few spur-of-the-moment shoots into an already packed itinerary. Even without an assignment, Mendelsohn shows up.”
The Philadelphia Association of Black Journalist (PABJ) paid tribute in a sentimental post to their “long-time friend and strong supporter”: “His camera was a fixture in and around Philadelphia’s African American community for decades, and his images captured the celebrations, triumphs, and tragedies of Black life.”
PABJ President Manuel McDonnell Smith noted, “He transcended the lens with an always friendly smile. There was a comfort in seeing him at an event. You knew that he would snap all of the right people and all of the right moments.”
Mendelsohn was interesting in his appearances, which was always disheveled and occasionally aromatic. It was akin to the bumbling television detective Columbo, whose askew look instead belied a shrewd media entrepreneur, and survivor who was an unlikely celebrity behind, and in front of, the camera.
The profile continues to detail how Mendelsohn, of Jewish heritage, felt like an outsider in a Feltonville neighborhood populated mostly by white Roman Catholics and always gravitated towards African-Americans.
Mendelsohn graduated from Olney High School in 1975, and after work would collect autographs and photos of celebrities as they exited the “Mike Douglas Show” KYW-TV studios at 5th and Market Streets.
In 1994, he landed his first paid photography job at a Kmart in the Northeast. In 1995, he stumbled into Black society event photography after a chance encounter at a 1995 National Association of Black Journalists gathering in Philly where Johnny Cochran, the renowned defense attorney from O.J. Simpson’s murder trial, was the keynote speaker.
Armstrong wrote: “When he’s out and about, his is often the lone white face in the room. But he’s OK with that. ‘When I go somewhere totally white, I feel uncomfortable,’ Mendelsohn told me. ‘I feel more accepted by the Black community.'”
“I wanted to take a picture of Johnny Cochran, and I found out that there was dinner was included. I said, ‘Oh, why not,’ “Mendelsohn recalled on a YouTube video about his career.
“He shot everything and everybody. If you wanted to know what was happening in Black Philadelphia, he was it. Many times I would run into Mendelsohn and learn what was going on. And then he would get there — on public transit. You have to respect his diligence. And my impression is that people really, really liked him,” reflected Heshimu Jaramogi, Publisher, The Neighborhood Leader.
“He was an iconic Philly paparazzi who would take the unknown and memorialize them in photos,” said Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati, founder and CEO of The African American Children’s Book Project.
“Robert Mendelsohn was one of the first photographers I worked side by side with when I first came to Philadelphia in 2003 along with Abdul Sulayman, Adria Hughes, Ron Allen, Michael Hammie, Rick Fitchett, Bill Foster, and Marty Regusters,” wrote Marissa Weekes Mason. “Although we didn’t always agree, Robert and I remained friends for over two decades covering together elections, concerts at the Dell, protests, parades, galas, politicians, and just everyday life in Philadelphia. He loved photographing people at events and being photographed with them. He touched a lot of people with his presence. I will miss his signature smile.”
For funeral and memorial updates, visit PABJ at https://www.facebook.com/PhillyABJ/.