Seymour Mednick, 91, commercial photographer who documented the Mummers
Mr. Mednick took photos of the Mummers for 50 years. Some became part of an award-winning documentary. Others were part of two art exhibits
Seymour Mednick, 91, of Center City, a commercial photographer whose pictures appeared in national magazines, but whose passion was documenting the Mummers for exhibits and film, died Thursday, July 5, of heart failure at his home.
Photography was a Mednick family occupation. Mr. Mednick's father, Benjamin, had been a portrait photographer in Philadelphia in the early 1900s. His older brother, Sol, was a commercial photographer and teacher.
Mr. Mednick used the camera as an illustrating device for advertising campaigns sponsored by big companies. Among his clients were ARA, Campbell Soup, Cigna, DuPont, Fidelity Bank, Peco, Pepsi, Rohm & Haas, SmithKline Beecham, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, and Unisys.
The ads appeared in Esquire, Fortune, Good Housekeeping, McCall's, Philadelphia Magazine, Playboy, Time, and Travel and Leisure.
Working from his Center City studio or on location, where subjects posed for pictures, Mr. Mednick liked to experiment with his camera. He developed techniques for creating the illusion of motion and animation in still photography long before computer technology made such effects a reality, his family said.
Mr. Mednick was honored for his work by the Philadelphia Art Directors Club, the New York Art Directors Club, and the New York Society of Illustrators, all professional organizations for the graphic arts.
Mr. Mednick also used photographs to document one of his favorite Philadelphia cultural traditions – the annual Mummers Parade and the preparations at the clubhouses in South Philadelphia. He began taking pictures of the Mummers with his brother in 1949.
The early images were grainy. They showed the Mummers sober-faced, dressed in face paint and costumes as clowns, minstrels and troubadours.
"The Mummers held a special fascination" for Mr. Mednick, said his son David. "I think he appreciated that it was unique to Philadelphia. It was such a different stage from what was typical on the street any other day.
He had a particular aesthetic, and he saw opportunities to show that aesthetic through those pictures."
Mr. Mednick always asked the men not to smile, and on one occasion came upon a group of men at Second and Delancey Streets standing in a doorway, waiting for the revelry to begin. "He just knew that was a great shot," his son said.
The 1949 image, called "Second and Delancey," became his signature photo. "That was his Mona Lisa," his son said.
Mr. Mednick's images were displayed in 1998 at the American Society of Media Photographers Philadelphia Show.
In another major exhibit in 1999 and 2000, the Mummers photos of Mr. Mednick and his brother, who had died earlier, were displayed at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, where Inquirer art critic Edward J. Sozanski saw them.
The images offered "a sober, dispassionate look at what many people perceive as a raucous and boisterous tradition," Sozanski wrote in January 2000. "The strongest photos," he wrote, "celebrate in a deadpan way American eccentricity and individuality."
Fifty of the photographs were included in "STRUT!" a 2001 documentary film about mummery directed by Robert Downey Jr. and co-produced by Mr. Mednick and filmmaker Max L. Raab. It won the 2001 Audience Choice for Best Documentary award at the East Hampton International Film Festival.
Born in Philadelphia, Mr. Mednick lived in the city all his life. He graduated from Central High School in 1945, and three years later graduated from the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art.
From 1955 to 1960, he was an instructor in photography at the Philadelphia College of Art.
When not behind the lens, Mr. Mednick enjoyed spending time on Long Beach Island.
In 1957, he married Barbara Parkin. The couple had three children before divorcing in 1983. She remarried as Barbara Edelstein and survives.
In 1995, Mr. Mednick married Linda Alter, and they divorced after nine years together. She also survives.
In addition to his son and his former wives, Mr. Mednick is survived by children Liz and Arthur; five grandchildren; and his companion, Ellie Wood.
Services and burial will be private.
Donations may be made to the Philadelphia Museum of Art via www.philamuseum.org/.