In the Galleries: August 2022

Four women at Chicken Bone Beach, ca. 1960s, by John W. Mosley (Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection)

In The Galleries highlights photography shows and photo-related happening in the Philadelphia area.

On view through August 30 on the first floor of Temple University’s Charles Library, “Chicken Bone Beach: The Photography of John W. Mosley and the African-American Experience in Atlantic City,” curated by Leslie Willis-Lowry, showcases photographs of a historic segregated beach that catered to an emerging African American middle class during the mid-Twentieth Century.

Mosley’s images provide an insider’s look at a stretch of sand near Missouri Avenue in Atlantic City that became a popular destination for vacationing Black families. Since the nearby White-owned restaurants refused to serve Black customers, people brought picnic baskets to the beach, which earned it the tongue-in-cheek nickname “Chicken Bone Beach.” The photos on display cover a roughly three-decade timespan, starting in the 1930s.

In his casual and convivial portraits of African American beachgoers, Mosley provides a window into a specific place and time. The images also serve as a reminder that socially-concerned photography can—and should—show people experiencing joy.

To be sure, there are a lot of posed group shots. People clearly enjoyed the experience of being photographed by Mosley. In turn, he photographed them as if they were celebrities–which, occasionally, they were.

Based in Philadelphia, Mosley enjoyed a lengthy career as a photojournalist, documenting Black society for a variety of publications. These prints were expertly selected from Mosley’s extensive archive, which totals over 250,000 negatives and prints, housed in Temple University’s Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection.

The several dozen images chosen for display are presented in simple black frames with captions affixed at the bottom. Together, they comprise a celebratory montage of Black life and culture during a more racially divided era. And they further the case for a greater appreciation of Mosley’s work.

The exhibit falters a little when it comes to the second half of the title—“the African-American Experience in Atlantic City.” That’s a topic of tremendous depth and breadth, and a one-room show can only begin to scratch the surface of it. But when the focus is on Mosley’s visual documentation of Chicken Bone Beach, it’s captivating.

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