Photojournalist Sharon Wohlmuth Dies at 75

In front of a brick wall lined with framed photographs, Sharon Wohlmuth, a white woman wearing all black with white hair and glasses, stands and looks at the pictures.
Sharon Wohlmuth presents at the Old City Jewish Art Center as part of the “Morning Meditations” exhibit. | Photo by Zalman Wircberg

On their way to Minot, North Dakota, to interview and photograph subjects for their photo essay book “Sisters” — which later spent 63 weeks on The New York Times Best Sellers list — photographer Sharon Wohlmuth and essayist Carol Saline were caught in a snowstorm.

The two had no boots or coats and lost their way while headed to their destination. All of a sudden, Wohlmuth insisted on pulling over the car. Despite Saline’s confusion, she complied and, soon, per Wohlmuth’s request, they began to make snow angels in the freshly fallen snow.

“She was very big on ‘be here, now’,” Saline said.

Wohlmuth died on Feb. 13 in her Rittenhouse Square home. She was 75.

In addition to copublishing four additional photo essay books with Saline after “Sisters,” Wohlmuth was a photojournalist with The Philadelphia Inquirer for more than 20 years and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1980 for her work in the paper’s coverage of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident.

Her photos, which spanned from Brooklyn Lubavitcher life to Somali refugee camps, attracted some of the Old City Jewish Art Center’s largest audiences while they were on display in exhibits in 2009 and 2015, OCJAC director Zalman Wircberg said.

Wohlmuth was an active member of the Philadelphia Jewish community. Both a member of Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel and Vilna Congregation, Wohlmuth had “chutzpah” and was “very, very proud of being Jewish” recalled Rabbi Menachem Schmidt of Vilna Congregation, a friend with Wohlmuth for 40 years.

On Rosh Hashanah, Wohlmuth volunteered to visit a local hospital with Schmidt and blow the shofar for patients to welcome the new year. In addition to going room-to-room to visit patients, Wohlmuth would greet doctors and nurses in the hallway who “looked Jewish” to blow the shofar for them, too.

“She just had a lot of class,” Schmidt said. “She had a tremendous presence.”

Born in Bristol, Connecticut, on Sept. 25, 1946, Wohlmuth was the middle child to older brother Gary Joslow and younger sister Beth Josolowitz. Her father was an avid photographer and influenced her decision to pursue photography in school.

After a short stint at a travel agency, where she met first husband Edward Wohlmuth, Sharon Wohlmuth enrolled in the Moore College of Art and Design in 1972. For her thesis, she lived among a Lubavitcher community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, for six months in 1974, photographing weddings and scenes from the Yeshiva.

Her photography impressed Inquirer photo editor Gary Haynes, who hired her a few months after she received her bachelor’s in photography. She was among the first four women to be hired as photographers for The Inquirer.

In 1994, Wohlmuth and Saline published “Sisters” through Running Press, a small publisher run by Wohlmuth’s second husband Larry Teacher. The book had a modest first printing of 20,000, but it skyrocketed in popularity after it was featured on an episode of “Oprah.” Companion books “Mothers and Daughters” and “Best Friends” also earned acclaim.

Wohlmuth was open about her ADD diagnosis, and she hired organizers to help sort through bits of paper, receipts and knickknacks in her pockets and purses. But Saline attributes Wohlmuth’s ADD to her keen photography skills; it gave her the ability to hone in on her subjects, while “everything else was up in the atmosphere.”

“She had a wonderful way of making people feel comfortable and forget that the camera was there,” Saline said.

Wohlmuth’s generosity with her camera extended out to her family, whom she and Teacher hosted every summer for a reunion at their Long Beach Island, New Jersey, home. She would take pictures of her family on the beach, having her nieces and nephews pose on the lifeguard chair.

Because she had no children, she would spoil her nieces and nephews, family members said. She frequently invited younger relatives to visit her Philadelphia penthouse or would take them on weekend trips to New York.

“It was a fantastic adventure for kids. They were always thrilled to be invited by Aunt Sharon,” Gary Joslow said. “She loved people; she liked having fun. She was a happy, social person.”

“It was like a luxurious escape for us,” nephew Zachary Joslow said.

Wohlmuth’s love of her family was apparent as they grew into adulthood.

Nephew Seth Josolowitz was contemplating attending college in Japan, but Wohlmuth was skeptical. During a work assignment, Wohlmuth met President Bill Clinton and immediately called Josolowitz, putting Clinton on the other line. Clinton gave Josolowitz his blessing to go to school in Japan, ultimately convincing Wohlmuth it was the right decision as well.

“She was unlike anyone I’ve ever met in her ability to get people backstage, to the front of the line,” Josolowitz said. “Places you weren’t supposed to be, she could get you there.”

Wohlmuth is survived by her siblings, five nieces and nephews and other relatives.


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