John W. Mosley self-portrait
Mosley made this rare self-portrait in 1941. He photographs himself in a mirror, his finger delicately pressing the shutter of his new Graflex Speed Graphic Anniversary-Edition camera. This was the state-of-the art equipment for photojournalists and it had just recently been issued.
Born in Lumberton, North Carolina, he developed an interest in photography in the 1920s, after receiving a simple box camera. In 1934, he moved to Philadelphia and went to work at Barksdale Photography Studio at 8th and Market Streets, where he taught himself the fundamentals of his craft. He married Theresa Still, a member of a prominent New Jersey family, and had two sons. They lived on the 5000 block of Chestnut Street. At the beginning of his career, he worked out of his home and developed his images in the bathtub. He later moved his studio and darkroom to the YMCA at 17th and Christian Streets.
Mosley’s body of work celebrates life. Veranda Vance recalled when she was photographed by Mosley. She remarked, “He was promoting positivity among the race. He made choices about what to photograph and those photographs reveal what we had accomplished, how far we’ve come, our dress code, our social activities, our education. And the white world was not aware of that really, so Mosley said, ‘look out world here we come.’”
In the 1990s, Mosley’s relatives donated his immense portfolio to Charles Blockson for inclusion in the Blockson Collection at Temple University Libraries, where it is now accessible to the public. Mosley’s images have been included in documentaries, dissertations, published books, and exhibitions on a variety of subjects.