RUTH ORKIN (1921-1985)

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Ruth Orkin (1921-1985)

Ruth Orkin was born on September 3, 1921 in Boston, Massachusetts. Orkin was the only child of Mary Ruby, a silent-film actress, and Samuel Orkin, a manufacturer of toy boats called Orkin Craft.

 

She grew up in Hollywood in the heyday of the 1920s and 1930s. At the age of 10, she received her first camera, a 39 cent Univex. She began by photographing her friends and teachers at school. It was clear that Orkin was a free spirit and adventurous girl from a young age. At 17 years old she took a monumental bicycle trip across the United States from Los Angeles to New York City to see the 1939 World's Fair, and she photographed along the way.

 

Orkin moved to New York in 1943, where she worked as a nightclub photographer and shot baby pictures by day to buy her first professional camera. This led to work with all the major magazines in New York in the 1940s. She also went to Tanglewood during the summers to shoot rehearsals. Because of her social circles, Orkin ended up with many of the worlds' greatest musicians of the time including Leonard Bernstein, Isaac Stern, Aaron Copland, Jascha Heifitz, Serge Koussevitzky and many others.

 

In 1951, LIFE magazine sent her to Israel with the Israeli Philharmonic. Orkin then went to Italy, and it was in Florence where she met Nina Lee Craig, an art student and fellow American, who became the subject of "American Girl in Italy," her most celebrated work. The photograph was part of a series originally titled "Don't Be Afraid to Travel Alone" about what they encountered as women traveling alone in Europe after the war.

 

She returned to New York after her travels, and married the photographer and filmmaker Morris Engel. Together they produced two feature films, including the classic Little Fugitive, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1953.

 

From their New York apartment overlooking Central Park, Orkin photographed marathons, parades, concerts, demonstrations, and the beauty of the changing seasons. These photographs were the subject of two widely acclaimed books, A World Through My Window and More Pictures From My Window.

 

After a long struggle with cancer (that she kept private from many of her friends) Orkin passed away in her apartment, surrounded by her wonderful legacy of photographs with the view of Central Park outside her window.

Her work was exhibited frequently throughout and after her life. Her work is still loved and sought after by many public and private collectors.

 

Biography adapted from the Ruth Orkin Photo Archive biography.

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