The Iconic ‘Girls in Windows’

“Every photographer dreams of having one signature photograph that he’s known for.”

Ormond Gigli undoubtedly achieved this ambition of his with the photograph Girls in Windows (1960). It has surpassed the rest of his long and celebrated career to become an iconic image of postwar New York.

Looking out of his studio window one day at the dilapidated building on the other side of the street, Gigli imagined the scene that would become his most celebrated photograph. “I had the vision,” he later explained, “of 43 women in formal dress adorning the windows of the skeletal façade.” The brownstone opposite Gigli’s was in the middle of demolition and only the structural frame of the building remained to be taken down. Gigli was granted permission to use the building for the shoot on the agreement that the demolition supervisor’s wife could feature in the photograph. The shoot was arranged to take place during the demolition workers’ lunchtime and the models each took up position in the empty windows, some bravely leaning out over the perilous drop onto the sidewalk below whilst Gigli photographed from the opposite fire escape.

The striking contrast of the crumbling nineteenth-century building and the vibrant modern dresses epitomizes a moment in New York’s history in which the post-war period was coloured by a new fervour to eliminate urban decay from the city. A few days after Gigli took the photograph, the building was flattened. Asked about Girls in Windows in a recent interview, Gigli said: “I have a big print of it up on my wall. I still smile whenever I look at it, even after all these years.”

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