LONDON.- The Michael Hoppen Gallery presents an exhibition of photographs by Ruth Orkin including American Girl in Italy, one of the most widely known photographs ever taken. Co-curated by Orkin's daughter, Mary Engel, the exhibition will feature rarely seen photographs from Orkin's travelogue encapsulating the tourist's experience in Italy alongside iconic images spanning Orkin's career.
On August 22, 1951, on the Piazza della Repubblica in Florence, Ruth Orkin, a 29 year old aspiring photojournalist, took the photograph that made her famous. The image of a young woman walking through a thicket of men was considered risqué in its time but since then it has become one of the most famous pictures ever taken. The image is such a perfect and classical composition that some critics to question whether or not the scene was staged. Orkin never hid the fact that the shot was not entirely spontaneous, and spoke of having directed some minor elements of the scene. Whether "real" or not, the image remains an icon of street photography to this day.
In Florence Orkin had met Ninalee "Jinx" Allen Craig, an art student and fellow American who became the model for a series Orkin originally titled Don't Be Afraid to Travel Alone, based on their joint experience as women travelling alone in Europe in the 1950s. Orkin photographed Craig shopping in the markets, crossing traffic, riding a carriage and flirting at a cafe. By chance the two came upon the now famous pack of men. Orkin turned around and photographed Craig behind her. "I clutched my shawl to me because that sheaths the body," says Craig. "It was my protection, my shield. I was walking through a sea of men." Craig today admits, "I was enjoying every minute of it. They were Italian and I love Italians." Orkin asked Craig to walk through again, and with that she captured the famous image. It took only two exposures. The photograph was first published in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1952 and it was later it was picked up by Kodak to encourage young photographers.
Soon after her return to New York, Ruth Orkin married photographer and filmmaker Morris Engel. Together they directed Little Fugitive, an independent film nominated for an Oscar in 1953. Orkin continued her career working for national magazines including Life, Look, Esquire, Cosmopolitan, Coronet, Ms., Collier's and Ladies' Home Journal. She became especially known for her portraits of actors, musicians and media personalities including Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Humphrey Bogart and Leonard Bernstein. Orkin's colour photographs taken from the window of her apartment on Central Park West were the subject of books, A World Through My Window (1978) and More Pictures from My Window (1983). Orkin's photographs are in many permanent collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the International Center of Photography, New York.