“A Million Faces: The Photography of John W. Mosley” will present more than 100 photographs — many making their public debut — as an exhibit at the Woodmere Art Museum takes a look at the work and life of the renown local photojournalist.
The museum said the exhibition title was sparked by Mosley’s assessment that his photography aimed to chronicle Philadelphia’s Black community through “nearly a million faces.”
Mosley, born in 1907, was a self-taught photographer who migrated from Lumberton, N.C., to Philadelphia in 1934 during the Great Migration. From the late 1930s to the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960s, he and his large-format accordion-style Graflex camera were frequently present at activities and events featuring Blacks, especially those living in Philadelphia, the Woodmere noted in a statement.
The longtime staff photographer for the Pyramid Club also was published in The Philadelphia Tribune, The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, The Pittsburgh Courier and other newspapers along the East Coast. Working seemingly nonstop until his death in 1969, he left a legacy of more than 300,000 photographs, which are preserved in the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University Libraries.
In the book “The Journey of John W. Mosley,” Blockson wrote: “The Mosley photographs reflect the continuity of culture and introduce the viewer to important values that have withstood the test of time … They not only represent Philadelphia but the experiences and relationships of African-Americans in cities throughout the United States. They are a testimony to the existence of an African-American humanity that warms the heart and soul as it stimulates the eye.”
Exhibit photographs range from glamorous women, politicians, churchgoers, agrarian workers and beachcombers to civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Cecil B. Moore to celebrities, artists, and sports figures such as Joe Frazier, Lena Horne, Roy Campanella, Marian Anderson, Jackie Robinson, Duke Ellington and Wilt Chamberlain.
“Mosley is an extraordinary artist and storyteller,” William Valerio, director and CEO of Woodmere, said in a statement. “Taken together, Mosley’s photography offers a distinct Philadelphia story, representing Philadelphia’s Black community with complexity and joy, all in the difficult context of a segregated society.”
In a statement, Blockson added: “These photos are part of history and they belong to the future.”
“A Million Faces: The Photography of John W. Mosley” runs from Sept. 24 to Jan. 16 at Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Ave. An open house reception is scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. Sept. 24, and admission is free on Sunday.
Every Monday for the duration of the exhibition, selected photos will be highlighted on Woodmere’s social channels, as the museum invites visitors to share their thoughts.
For museum hours and more information, visit woodmereartmuseum.org.