Ruth Orkin, American Girl in Italy, 1951

Ruth Orkin’s American Girl in Italy is one of the best examples of Orkin’s dynamic and captivating photojournalism. It has become the photographer’s most enduring work, reproduced in numerous posters and magazines since it was made.

Orkin was sent from New York to Israel on assignment for LIFE magazine in 1951. From there, Orkin went on to Italy in the summer of the same year, where she met the subject of her famous photograph, then known as Jinx Allen, in Florence. Both women were travelling alone around Europe, and having met in the Hotel Berchielli, where they were both staying, instantly struck up a rapport, discussing their shared experiences. Orkin had the idea of photographing Allen around the city to reflect the experience of solo travelling in the hope of creating an interesting photo story.

The next day the two set out, wandering the city’s streets, with Orkin photographing Allen in cafés, shops and visiting historic sites. Orkin walked several paces ahead of Allen, turning around as they entered the Piazza della Repubblica, Orkin captured Allen as she stoically walked past a number of men gazing at her on the street corner. The photograph has become Orkin’s most popular, for its snapshot style depiction of city street dynamics.

The two parted company shortly after the photograph was taken, continuing on their solo travels before meeting each other again in both Venice and Paris, where Orkin took several more photographs of Allen. The series of photographs was first published as a photo-essay in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1952 with the title ‘Don’t Be Afraid to Travel Alone.’

Featured a few decades later in LIFE magazine, the article revealed the identity of the ‘American Girl’, Jinx Allen, who was by that time using her birth name of Nina Lee Craig. Craig had returned from her European travels to the US several years earlier, where she re-connected with Orkin. The two remained friends until the photographer’s death in 1985.

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