Exploration of Photography through Time: Ruth Orkin

“Being a photographer is making people look at what I want them to look at”   Ruth Orkin

Earlier this year while on one of my photo walks about town, I  noticed an image in a store window which led me to look further into the history of who’s work this was and the story behind it. The photographers name was Ruth Orkin and the image was called “American Girl in Italy”.  I was really impressed by her work and decided to learn more about her style,  chosen subjects and her view of the world through her images.

Orkin had many interests in a variety of subjects but the ones she is most well known for in photographing was, celebrities, New York City and classical musicians. “Urban Lifestyles” became the theme for my project and so, I took to Sydney’s city streets to have a go at street photography and further explore the local lifestyle and people as they go about their day.


A view from the street side of a florist. © Ruth Valasini 2013

Didn’t take long for me to get into the swing of things. There was so much around to see and plenty of interesting people about.


In the city there are lots of interesting characters about. © Ruth Valasini 2013


News and Magazine stand all loaded up with something for everyone. © Ruth Valasini 2013

There is always people around. The image below was taken in the early part of the morning at Darling Harour.


Walking to work around Darling Harbour. What a view! © Ruth Valasini 2013

A majority of Ruth Orkin’s images were Black & White and often captures people doing things as they go about their daily life.


Business people use scooters as their way of commuting to work. © Ruth Valasini 2013

A social meet in the plaza walkway over a coffee and smoke break.


On a coffee break in Pitt St walk way. © Ruth Valasini 2013

These images along with others, can be seen in my “Urban Lifestyle” gallery on my facebook photography page. Please feel free to stop by and leave a comment 🙂

Ruth Orkin was an American photojournalist and filmmaker who grew up in Hollywood as an only child, with her father and mother, a silent film actress in the 1920s and 1930s. She is mainly recognised for photographing Celebrities, New York City, and Classical Musicians, but her most famous image “American Girl in Italy” taken in Florence, Italy (held at the  Museum of Modern Art) became a classic icon world-wide. Ironically it has also become the subject of both criticism and compliment; with some claiming it’s a symbol of harassment, while others say it is flattering and a symbol of having a wonderful time enjoying a gesture of “romantic worship” to the female.

Background: Initially Orkin began taking photos of her friends and teachers from school at the early age of 10 after receiving her first camera, and later went on to study photojournalism. She loved to travel and made her first solo trip in 1939 at the age of 17, bicycling and hitchhiking across the United States through the big cities, taking photos along the way documenting her journey.

She began her photographic career working as a nightclub photographer then went on to become a successful traveling freelance photographer contributing to well known magazines of that time such as “Life Magazine” and various other publications.

Throughout her career, Ruth Orkin also taught photography and published two books titled “A World Through My Window” in 1978, and “More Pictures From My Window” in 1983, which was a collection of panoramic photographs of the skyline and the ever changing seasons taken during her lifetime while living in three different New York City apartments.

Influences: She expressed her view on photography as; “Being a photographer is making people look at what I want them to look at” and “To be a photojournalist takes experience, skill endurance, energy, salesmanship, organisation, wheedling, climbing, and gatecrashing – plus an eye and patience”. These philosophies coupled with; her curiosity to explore, love for travel and photography, all influenced her work.

Technical Aspects: Not a lot of or detail is available on the type of camera, lenses or equipment that Ruth Orkin used, but the most important technical aspects of her work focuses on; her style, the really good eye for street photography that she had and the ability to make people really look at what she was seeing. I would describe her overall style as candid, often up close and personal, and documentary. This is demonstrated in her images and the subjects she took interest in.

Ruth Orkin Official Website: http://www.orkinphoto.com/


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