Ruth Orkin

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Ruth Orkin
Born(1921-09-03)September 3, 1921
Boston, Massachusetts
DiedJanuary 16, 1985(1985-01-16) (aged 63)
New York City
EducationPhotojournalism at Los Angeles City College
Known forPhotography, filmmaking
Notable work
American Girl in Italy (1951), Little Fugitive (1952), Lovers and Lollipops (1955)
Spouse(s)Morris Engel
WebsiteRuth Orkin Photo Archive

Ruth Orkin (September 3, 1921 – January 16, 1985) was an American photographer, photojournalist, and filmmaker, with ties to New York City and Hollywood. Best known for her photograph An American Girl in Italy (1951), she photographed many celebrities and personalities including Lauren Bacall, Doris Day, Ava Gardner, Tennessee Williams, Marlon Brando, and Alfred Hitchcock.[1]


Ruth Orkin was born on September 3, 1921 in Boston, Massachusetts to Mary Ruby and Samuel Orkin.[2] Ruth grew up in Hollywood, due to her mother's career as a silent film actress. In 1931, she received her first camera, a 39-cent Univex, and soon began experimenting by taking photographs of her friends and teachers at school.[3] At the age of 17, she decided to bike across America, beginning in Los Angeles, and ending in New York City for the 1939 World's Fair. She completed the trip in three weeks' time, taking photographs along the way.[4]

She briefly attended Los Angeles City College for photojournalism in 1940,[5] prior to becoming the first messenger girl at MGM Studios in 1941, citing a desire to become a cinematographer. She left the position after discovering the union's discriminatory practices that did not allow female members.[6][7] She joined the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps during World War II, in 1941[8] in an attempt to gain filmmaking skills, as advertisements promoting the group promised. The attempt was not fruitful, however, and she was discharged in 1943 without any filmmaking training.[5]

In 1943, Orkin moved to New York City in pursuit of a career as a freelance photojournalist. She began working as a nightclub photographer, and received her first assignment in 1945 from The New York Times to shoot Leonard Bernstein.[1] Shortly after, her freelance career grew as she traveled internationally on assignments and contributed photographs to Life, Look, Ladies' Home Journal, and others.[9] Orkin is credited with breaking into a heavily male field.

Orkin's most celebrated image is An American Girl in Italy (1951).[9] The subject of the now-iconic photograph was the 23-year-old Ninalee Craig (known at that time as Jinx Allen). The photograph was part of a series originally titled "Don't Be Afraid to Travel Alone."[2] The image depicted Craig as a young woman confidently walking past a group of ogling Italian men in Florence. In recent articles written about the pair, Craig claims that the image was not staged, and was one of many taken throughout the day, aiming to show the fun of traveling alone.[10][11]

In 1952 Orkin married photographer, filmmaker and fellow Photo League member Morris Engel. Orkin and Engel collaborated on two major independent feature films, "Little Fugitive" (1953) and "Lovers and Lollipops" (1955).[6] After the success of the two films, Orkin returned to photography, taking color shots of Central Park as seen through her apartment window. The resulting photographs were collected in two books, "A World Through My Window" (1978) and "More Pictures from My Window" (1983).[6]

Orkin taught photography at the School of Visual Arts in the late 1970s, and at the International Center of Photography in 1980.[1] After a long, private battle with cancer, Orkin died of the disease at her New York City apartment on January 16, 1985.[6]


Lists of solo and group exhibitions are taken directly from the Ruth Orkin Photo Archive Career page.

Solo exhibitions[edit]


  • Nikon House, New York, NY


  • Witkin Gallery, New York, NY
  • Enjoy Gallery, Boston


  • Milwaukee Center of Photography, Milwaukee
  • Kiva Gallery, Boston


  • University of Akron, Ohio
  • Afterimage Gallery, Dallas, Texas


  • Rizzoli Gallery, NY


  • Atlanta Gallery of Photography, Atlanta, Georgia


  • Witkin Gallery, New York, NY


  • Douglas Elliot Galler, San Francisco


  • Equivalents Gallery, Seattle, Washington


  • Witkin Gallery, New York, NY


  • Photo Gallery International, Tokyo, Japan


  • Witkin Gallery, New York, NY


  • International Center of Photography, NY


  • Michael Lord Gallery, Milwaukee, WI
  • Irving Galleries, Palm Beach, FL


  • Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, NY
  • Jan Kesner Gallery, Los Angeles, CA


  • Tom Blau Gallery, London, England
  • Sag Harbor Picture Gallery, Sag Harbor, NY


  • Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, NY


  • Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto, Canada
  • Michael Hoppen Gallery, London, England
  • Cavalier Galleries, Nantucket, MA
  • Joie de Livres Gallery, Salisbury, CT


  • Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto, Canada
  • Lumiere Brothers, Moscow, Russia


  • Duncan Miller Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
  • Fondazione Stelline, Milan, Italy

Group exhibitions[edit]


Young Photographers, Museum of Modern Art NY
The Family of Man, Museum of Modern Art, NY
The World and Its People, The World's Fair, NY
Photography in the Fine Arts, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Photographic Crossroads: The Photo League, SUNY, New Paltz
Manhattan Observed, NY Historical Society
American Images, 1945-1980, Barbican Art Gallery, London
Collecting New York: Recent Acquisitions, Museum of City of NY
New York: The City and Its People, Working People's Cultural Palace, Beijing, China
Cross Examinations, Mendocino Art Center, Mendocino, California
Masters of Starlight, LA County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA
Diamonds are Forever: Artists and Writers on Baseball, NY State Museum, Albany 1988 Master Photographs from The Photography in the Fine Arts Exhibition, ICP, NY
The Human Element: B/W Photography, Cal State, Long Beach
A History of Women Photographers, New York Public Library, New York, NY
Defining Eye: Women Photographers of the 20th Century, St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO
The City That Never Sleeps, Robert Mann Gallery, New York, NY
Game Face, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
From Within, Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, NY
Photographs We Know, David Fahey Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
Jews of Brooklyn, Long Island University, Brooklyn, NY
Celebrating Central Park, Hirschl and Adler Galleries, New York, NY
At the Crossroads of Desire: A Times Square Centennial, AXA Gallery, New York, NY
New York! New York!, Photographs Do Not Bend, Dallas, TX
From Within, Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, NY
American Photographers: Fine Prints Exhibition, Photo Gallery International, Tokyo, Japan
In Black and White: Works on Paper from the Jewish Museum Collection, New York, NY
Acting the Part: Photography as Theatre, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada
Winter in Black and White, Monroe Gallery, Santa Fe, NM
Women Who Shot the 20th Century, Monroe Gallery, Santa Fe, NM
Celluloid Skyline: New York and the Movies, Grand Central Terminal, New York, NY
The Women of the Photo League, Higher Pictures, New York, NY
Shine, Photographs Do Not Bend, Dallas, TX
The Heartbeat of Fashion, International Center of Photography, New York, NY
Beyond Color, Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York, NY
New York in the 40s, Tula Art Center, Atlanta, GA
Shout Freedom, Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH
Kid Kulture, Westport Arts Center, Westport, CT
Revelations, Robert Anderson Gallery, New York, NY
40 Exceptional Photographs, Afterimage Gallery, Dallas, TX
The Radical Camera: New York's Photo League 1936-1951, The Jewish Museum, New York, NY
Eye Wonder: Women Photographers in the Bank of America Collection, Cer Modern, Ankara, Turkey

Awards [12][edit]


  • 3rd Prize Winner, LIFE Magazine's Young Photographer's Contest, 1951
  • One of Top Ten Women Photographers in the U.S., Professional Photographers of America, 1959
  • 1st Annual Manhattan Cultural Award, Photography, 1980


  • Certificate of Merit, Municipal Art Society of New York, 1984

Bibliography, filmography[edit]


  • The World Through My Window, Harper and Row, 1978
  • A Photo Journal: Ruth Orkin, The Viking Press, 1981
  • More Pictures from My Window, Rizzoli, 1983


  • The Little Fugitive, 1953
    • Editor, Co-director and Co-writer
    • Academy Award Nomination, Best Original Screenplay
    • Silver Lion, Venice Film Festival
  • Lovers and Lollipops, 1955
    • Editor, Co-producer, Co-director and Co-writer
    • The film served as inspiration for Carol (film), according to Director Todd Haynes[13]

Further reading[edit]

[1] Hagen, Charles. "Photography Review: Beyond that Single Picture." 2 June 1995. The New York Times. Retrieved 5 March 2016.


  1. ^ a b c "Career". Ruth Orkin Photo Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-05.
  2. ^ a b "Biography". Ruth Orkin Photo Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-05.
  3. ^ "Biography". Ruth Orkin Photo Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-05.
  4. ^ "Style of Sport features Ruth's Bicycle Trip from 1939". Retrieved 2016-03-05.
  5. ^ a b Svendsgaard, Lisabeth G. (n.d.). "Ruth Orkin". American National Biography Online. Retrieved 5 March 2016.
  6. ^ a b c d Grundberg, Andy (1985-01-17). "RUTH ORKIN, PHOTOJOURNALIST AND FILM MAKER, DEAD AT 63". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-03-05.
  7. ^ "30 By 30: Patt Blue / Ruth Orkin | Professional Women Photographers Blog". Retrieved 2016-03-05.
  8. ^ Ruth Orkin Photo Archive Biography
  9. ^ a b Morgan, Ann Lee (2007). The Oxford Dictionary of American Art and Artists. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195373219.
  10. ^ Coffey, LT (August 18, 2011). "At 83, subject of 'American Girl in Italy' photo speaks out". New York: MSNBC. Archived from the original on September 26, 2011. Retrieved August 19, 2011.
  11. ^ Krumboltz, M (August 19, 2011). "American girl in Italy: 60 years later". The Lookout. Retrieved August 19, 2011.
  12. ^ "Career". Ruth Orkin Photo Archive. Retrieved 2016-03-05.
  13. ^ "Awards Feature: Director Todd Haynes Finds Inspiration for 'Carol' in Obscure Docudrama's "Lost Language of Femininity" | SSN Insider". Retrieved 2016-03-05.

External links[edit]