Sol Worth was born Solomon
Wishnepolsky on August 19, 1922 in New York City. The son of a
dressmaker by the name of Jack Wishnepolsky, very little is know
of his life before he began formal education.
He attended the High School of Music and Art in New York City from 1936 until 1940. Upon graduation from high school with a major concentration in art, he went to the University of Iowa. At Iowa, he majored in painting and sculpture and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1943.
After leaving the University of Iowa, he served in the United States Navy from 1943 until 1945. While in the Navy, he was assigned to Military Intelligence at the Joint Intelligence Center in the Pacific Ocean area aboard the U.S.S. .Missouri..
In 1945, he married the former Tobia Lessler and together they had a daughter Debora, now a therpist and married to Robert Hymes, Columbia University professor in the East Asian Institute. Worth returned to New York and began work for the Goold Studios in still photography and motion pictures. Working in the same firm for over seventeen years, he eventually became Vice-president and Creative Director of the studios. While at Goold, he entered the New School for Social Research where he took various courses in film producing, film animation and film editing from 1948 until 1950.
His scholarly abilities were well recognized during this period as he was granted a Fullbright Lectureship as a Visiting Professor of Documentary Film and Photography during the 1956-1957 year at the University of Helsinki in Finland. Here he produced a documentary film entitled "Teatteri," which was chosen for the permanent collection of Documentary Film at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
This film prompted Gilbert Seldes, the first dean of the Annenberg School of Communications, to invite Worth to become a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School in 1960 where he was named the Director of the Documentary Film Laboratory and supervisor of Media Laboratories.
In 1964, Worth decided to devote himself full-time to his teaching and research and moved to Philadelphia to take a position as Assistant Professor of Communications. In 1973, he was named a full Professor of Communication. During this period, he was awarded an M.A. Honoris Causa from the University of Pennsylvania in 1971 and was also a Visiting Research Professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, City University of New York from 1968 until 1972.
In 1976, Worth began a new project in his scholarly career as he was appointed the first Chair of the newly begun Undergraduate major in Communications. To a large degree, this major was created because of Worth's perseverance and interest in the project.
In 1966 he and John Adair received a National Science Foundation grant that enabled him to instruct the Navajo Indians in the art of filmmaking as part of a study of cross-cultural communication. This research, which was probably his most famous, eventually led to the publishing of a book in 1972, co-authored with Adair, entitled, Through Navajo Eyes: An Exploration in Film Communication and Anthropology. Additionally, in 1967, Worth received the Wenner-Gren Foundation award for outstanding research in communication and anthropology. As the author of over two dozen scholarly papers, he was well recognized in the fields of anthropology and communications, as well in the field of visual communication.
His participation and leadership in a variety of scholarly organizations and publications was a mark of this respect. In 1970, he founded, along with the anthropologists Margaret Mead and Jay Ruby and others, the Anthropological Film Research Institute, and from 1972 through 1974, he served as founding President of the Society for the Anthropology of Visual Communication. He was also Chair of the Research Division of the University Film Association and served as the Senior Member of the Board of Directors for the Society for Cinematologists from 1967 through 1970. Finally, he served as editor of the journal, Studies in the Anthropology of Visual Communication from its inception in 1973 until his death.
Worth was also involved with a wide range of more broadly based organizations throughout his career, such as: the American Anthropological Association, the American Film Institute, and the International Film Seminars, as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institute.
Worth was in the midst of submitting a proposal to the Guggenheim Foundation for a large-scale research project in visual communications, when he died on August 29, 1977 of a heart attack at the age of fifty-five. He had been attending the Flaherty Film Seminar in Boston when he was stricken.
Sol Worth's Publications available at this site.
A Listing of Worth's Publications
Studying Visual Communication
Through Navaho Eyes with John Adair
Toward an Ethnographic Semiotic - an unpublished paper
Introduction to Erving Goffman's Gender Advertisements
Man Is Not A Bird
Larry Gross's 1983 article entitled Life vs. Art: The Interpretation of Visual Narratives published in Studies in Visual Communication, vol. 11, no. 4 has been added because it is a critique and elaboration of the model of social communication first proposed by Worth and Gross in Symbolic Strategies.
Go To the Sol Worth Papers at the University of Pennsylvania Archive