John Mendelsohn's work appeared across various community newspapers, most recently as a Correspondent with The Philadelphia Sunday Sun.

In Memoriam: Photographer Robert Mendelsohn

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.”

Robert Mensohn and Jewel Mann Lassiter while Robert was covering the PABJ awards gala 2009.

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.”

(L to R) Photographers H. Michael Hammie, Bobbi I. Booker, Ron Allen, Robert Mendelsohn and writer Nathan Lerner taking a break after reporting duties in 2013.

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.

Robert Mendelsohn traveled to New York, collecting buddy shots with Ethel Merman, George Burns, Jesse Jackson and other big-time stars. Caption inspired by The Daily News.
Jesse Jackson.
Ethel Merman.

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.

Photographers Marissa Weekes Mason and Robert Mendelsohn covering the Black Alliance for Educational Option symposium 2007 at the Marriott downtown.

“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.

Photojournalist Robert Mendelsohn and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity member Howard James Jr. at the fraternity’s 98th annual anniversary formal on Nov. 24, 2018.

“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.”

Robert Mendelsohn photojournalism was on full display as he documented the lengthy health battle of his best friend, Davida C. Godett. Mendelsohn took to social media to morn the death of the three-time stroke and cancer survivor who died on May 13, 2019 at age 43.

For funeral and memorial updates, visit PABJ.

Images: Marissa Weekes Mason, courtesy of Robert Mendelsohn via Facebook.

9 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Photographer Robert Mendelsohn

    1. Thank you! He was a longtime media friend who supported all media voices, including Dosage Magazine. I figured we’d be negotiating about pictures but wound up penning his obituary. Such, however, is the life we lead — and I was honored to share this adventure with him 😏

  1. Robert was one of a kind I’m truly going to miss him a good friend always Build Me Up always supported me in anything I’ve done he was family to me he loved the to come to the Amish Market in Bucks County and we would have lunch we would meet at the Redding station and have lunch there I’m so happy that I got to speak to him for the last time

  2. Beautiful tribute to Robert. I read, and re read articles on Robert this week, and I still can’t believe I’m never going to see him again on earth. I’m glad I was able to tell him how much I appreciated his guidance, especially when I first started. I only wish we all had more time with him. He was so loved, especially by the ladies. His funeral was standing room only, and over flowing with admiration for the man behind the camera. RIP Robert, Philly will miss you dearly.

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