|‘American Girl’ photo: American Girl in Italy, 1951 © 1952, 1980 Ruth Orkin / Courtesy of Stephen Bulger Galle.|
Ruth Orkin (1921 – 1985) was an award-winning photojournalist and filmmaker. 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. 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.
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 Ninalee Craig, an art student and fellow American, who became the subject of "American Girl in Italy." 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.
Back in 1951, Craig was a carefree 23-year-old who had chucked her job in New York and secured third-class accommodations on a ship bound for Europe. She spent more than six months making her way through France, Spain and Italy all by herself — something very few women did in the years following World War II. While staying at a cheap hotel, Craig met photographer Ruth Orkin, who was also traveling alone. The two spoke about the fun and challenges of being alone while on the road in Italy. They hatched a plan to take photos that focused on what it was like to travel as a single woman.
In an interview with Today, Craig spoke about how, despite what some might say, the photo isn't a "symbol of harassment. It's a symbol of a woman having an absolutely wonderful time!"
For two hours, the photographer and amateur model walked the streets of Florence. Photos were taken at markets and in cafes. The street-scene photo came about naturally. According to Craig, Orkin shot only two pictures of her walking down the macho street. One of them turned out to be absolutely iconic. You can also see from the contact sheet that after those two frames, the man on the Vespa took Craig for a ride.
As for whether or not the photo was staged, Craig says no way. "You don't have 15 men in a picture and take just two shots. The men were just there. ... The only thing that happened was that Ruth Orkin was wise enough to ask me to turn around and go back and repeat" the walk down the street.
(via Yahoo News and Today)