Ruth Orkin at 100 | A Celebratory Exhibition: Exhibition

Reading Room 14 August - 18 September 2021 
Reading Room

Exhibition Dates: August 14 – September 18, 2021


In celebration of Ruth Orkin’s Centennial year, the gallery is pleased to present our third solo exhibition of work by photojournalist Ruth Orkin in our Reading Room gallery. Born September 3, 1921, Orkin was known for photographing celebrities, New York City, classical musicians and the iconic image American Girl in Italy, Florence, 1951.


Orkin received a Univex camera at 10 years old and began developing her own photographs at 12. A passionate movie-goer, Orkin was an avid autograph hunter, soon turning her passion into photographing celebrities. At 17, she took a monumental bicycle trip across the country to attend the 1939 World's Fair in New York City. At 21, she became a messenger at MGM Studios, but left because the cinematographer's union did not accept female members.


Orkin moved to New York City in 1943. She took baby pictures during the day and was a nightclub photographer at night. In the mid-1940s, Orkin became a photojournalist for many major magazines, including Life, Look, Horizon, and Ladies Home Journal. In the late 1940s, she captured classical musicians such as Leonard Bernstein, Isaac Stern, Serge Koussevitzky, and Aaron Copland.


In 1951 Orkin went to Israel with the Israeli Philharmonic where she lived on a kibbutz for several months photographing her experiences. She then travelled to Italy, Paris, London, and Florence where she photographed her signature image American Girl in Italy. Orkin first met photographer Morris Engel at The Photo League, marrying him in 1952 while making the classic film, Little Fugitive. It was nominated for an Academy Award and won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival. François Truffaut credited the film with starting the French New Wave. They went on to make a second award-winning film together titled Lovers and Lollipops


In 1959 Orkin was named one of “The Ten Top Women Photographers in the U.S.” along with Dorothea Lange and Margaret Bourke-White by the Professional Photographers of America. Her priorities turned to raising a family where Orkin used her camera to photograph her two children: first, her son Andy and three years later, her daughter Mary. From her Central Park West apartment, she watched the seasons change outside her window, documenting what she saw over the next 30 years. These photographs became the subject of two books, “A World Through My Window” (1978) and “More Pictures From My Window” (1983). Her monograph “A Photo Journal” was published in 1981, followed by exhibitions and lecture tours. In 1985, after a long battle with cancer, Orkin passed away in her apartment surrounded by her remarkable legacy of photographs and the view of Central Park outside her window.


This exhibition is in conjunction with a new and expansive monograph published by Hatje Cantz, entitled Ruth Orkin: A Photo Spirit. It also coincides with a large exhibition at the Fotografiska Museum, in New York City, opening in September, 2021.