This Christmas, with the generous financial support of a variety of holiday benefactors, will be known heretofore as “A Ruth Orkin Christmas”* throughout the land (or at least in my apartment). I took one more step towards what I envision is adulthood and purchased my very first piece of art—and from the John Cleary Gallery, no less!!!
Ruth Orkin: Couple in an MG, Florence, 1951
Now first a bit of exposition: For those of you who aren’t aware, I had the privilege of studying abroad in Florence, Italy the first semester of my junior year at Baylor. As one might imagine I had an absolutely astounding time—however, I never came away with that ONE memento that I knew I would have forever and make me think of the experience as a whole. (Don’t get me wrong, I did plenty of great shopping, traveling, eating, etc.)
Joseph on moped, Florence, 2004
Even before I began working at the gallery, when I used to come visit Catherine I would sometimes rifle through the drawers of pieces and I came across this one. I mean seriously… the goggles, the ecstatic grin, the cap, the car, the city, the EVERYTHING!! How could I not love it, right? Immediately I had one of those dramatic soap opera moments: *shakes fist into the air* “One day, you WILL be mine!!” … … …
… … … AND NOW IT IS!!! I get to wake up to that crazy grin every morning now!
In reading up on both the photographer and the photograph I can easily say that I am in love with this woman!! Now, I could wax on and on and on about how fascinating her life was and show you picture after picture after stunning picture but who really has time for that. So instead, I’m just going to wax on and on about how fascinating her life was and show you picture after stunning picture from her catalogue. You’re welcome. (Information and photographs primarily from www.orkinphoto.com)
Born the child of a silent film actress and a toy boat maker in Los Angeles, California, Ruth Orkin began taking photographs at the age of 10. While living in Hollywood she became the first ever messenger hired by MGM studios. At the age of 17 she took off on a bike ride across America to New York to see the 1939 World’s Fair, stopping stopping to take photographs along the way (often making sure to include her bicycle as proof of the trip.
El, 1939 / Washington Monument
Moving to New York in the early 1940’s, Ruth began photographing for various magazines around the city, particularly focusing on street photography of the city.
White Stoops / Tired Little Boy / Man in Rain / Central Park
Concomitant to her work in New York she also spent many summers at the Tanglewood festival, shooting rehearsals with many of the major musicians of the day—an introduction to the photographing of celebrities she would continue to do throughout her career.
Bernstein and Marion Anderson / Woody Allen
In 1951 LIFE magazine assigned Ruth to travel with the Israeli Philharmonic on its first American tour, later leading to her shooting in Israel for a period of about two and a half months.
Jewish Refugees at Lydda Airport, Tel Aviv, 1951 / Sea Wall
Following her travels to Israel she headed northwest towards Europe and it was in Florence, Italy that she met a fellow American, Jinx Allen (now Ninalee Craig), who shared her fascination with art and travel. Immediately they head out among the city to document what it was like for a single woman to travel alone in Europe after the war, leading to what is now considered her most iconic image:
American Girl in Italy, 1951 (Which just recently celebrated it’s 60th anniversary. Read the article and an interview with Jinx, still alive at 83, here)
Jinx, Beads / Jinx, Goggles / Jinx, Staring a the Statue
Upon her arrival back to New York she married fellow photographer and filmmaker Morris Engel, a union that produced two short films, “Little Fugitive” and “Lovers and Lollipops”, the former of which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1953.
With the advent of color photography, Ruth Orkin was one of the pioneers of the genre, looking once again towards the streets of New York City for inspiration.
Ladies Home Journal cover, circa 1950 / Mother and Child in Water, 1950
Until her death from cancer in 1985 Ruth lived the remainder of her life in an apartment overlooking central park, continuously photographing the world and people around her.
As many of you know, once I’m interested in something I am oft found devouring as much information as I can possibly find on each respective subject (See: “In Praise of Cultural Omnivores”. [See also: the title of my blog]). That being said I received a couple of Barnes and Noble (r.i.p. Borders) gift cards and immediately bought a couple of books on Ruth Orkin:
So finally, thank you thank you every one for helping my “Ruth Orkin Christmas” come true… I honestly couldn’t be more thrilled!
“Being a photographer is making people look at what I want them to look at. […] My life’s work was determined by four passions which I had as a kid: Film, photography, music and travel. And eventually, I realize now they all fell together in photography. Today it seems to me a lot of young people go out and say ‘I’m going to become an “art photographer.” That to me is a joke. What’s important is, to me, what you’re shooting… what it means to you. And if somebody else sometime eventually calls it art then alright, it’s art photography.”
- Ruth Orkin
Artist: Jamie Cullum / Album: Catching Tales
*As well as the year I got a ginormous television (but I’m not allowed to post pictures as it might entice the inner-thieves amongst you to do bad things)