American Girl

American Girl

My mother, Ruth Orkin, had many loves. Photography and travel were two of them.

When she was 17, my mother took a cross-country trip by herself, bicycling and hitchhiking from her home in Los Angeles to New York, snapping pictures along the way. She later moved to New York, where this spirit of adventure continued. She photographed Tanglewood’s summer music festivals, honed her craft in nightclubs, joined the Photo League, and with her first published story in Look magazine, became “a full-fledged photojournalist.” In 1951, Life sent her on assignment to Israel. From there she went to Italy, and it was in Florence that she met Jinx Allen (now known as Ninalee Craig), a painter and fellow American.

The two were talking about their shared experiences traveling alone as young single women, when my mother had an idea. “Come on,” she said, “lets go out and shoot pictures of what it’s really like.” In the morning, while the Italian women were inside preparing lunch, Jinx gawked at statues, asked Military officials for directions, fumbled with lire and flirted in cafes while my mother photographed her. They had a lot of fun, as the photograph, “Staring at the Statue”, demonstrates. My mother’s best known image, “American Girl in Italy” was also created as part of this series.

My mother always encouraged me to go to Europe, which I finally did during my college years, exploring Italy on a diet of wine and cheese. I felt a tremendous connection with her while I was there. Even now, with memories of my own, when I think of Italy, I picture my mother’s photographs. She captured its essence, as she did with most things.