Sol Mednick’s Photography

Sharing the Common Wealth showcases objects, artifacts, documents, structures and buildings from the collections of PHMC.
Sol Mednick, Untitled, gelatin silver print, 1950s.

Sol Mednick, Untitled, gelatin silver print, 1950s.
The State Museum of Pennsylvania

In the mid-1950s, photographer Sol Mednick (1916–70) created this untitled gelatin silver print. Although no documentation has been found that describes the process by which the artist composed this mysterious, abstract image, it is clear that the camera was not the only tool used to achieve the strange effects in its composition. During the darkroom printing process Mednick apparently exposed two images together on the photographic paper: a view of an urban scene of traffic signals beside a set of skyscrapers that is printed horizontally on top of a similar view printed vertically. The layering of the two images creates some unusual geometric designs, especially in the section where the windows of the skyscraper cross one another.

Photography became a part of Mednick’s life at an early age when in the 1920s his father opened a photography studio at the family residence on North 31st Street in Philadelphia. He then studied under the Russian photographer Alexey Brodovitch (1898–1971) in the 1930s at the Philadelphia College of Art (now The University of the Arts). After graduation Mednick embarked on his own career as a commercial photographer, shooting images for advertisements, catalogs and magazines. In 1951 he also began teaching at his alma mater, where he established the college’s photography department in 1953. As a teacher he had a strong influence on the photography scene in Philadelphia in the 1950s and ’60s.

In addition to his commercial work, Mednick engaged in photography as an artistic pursuit. His own fine art images consisted of a variety of creatively composed views in Philadelphia, including parties, parades, pedestrians, policemen, markets and architecture. He also experimented with manipulating images in various ways in the darkroom with techniques such as double exposure and light graphics.

Mednick’s untitled photograph is currently part of the exhibit Innovative Means: Photography from the Collection, running through February 17, 2019, at The State Museum of Pennsylvania. The show features 29 images in the museum’s fine art collection by various Pennsylvania photographers, emphasizing experimental techniques as film and camera technologies evolved over a span of 80 years.


Kyle R. Weaver is the editor of Pennsylvania Heritage.