Ruth Orkin (1921 – 1985)

Ruth Orkin 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 photographed a bicycle trip she took across the United States from Los Angeles to New York City to see the 1939 World’s Fair.  Orkin moved to New York in 1943, where she worked as a nightclub photographer and shot baby pictures by day to buy her first professional camera. She worked for all the major magazines in the 1940s, and went to Tanglewood during the summers to shoot rehearsals. She had access to many of the world’s greatest musicians at the time including Leonard Bernstein, Isaac Stern, Aaron Copeland, Jascha Heifetz, Serge Koussevitzky.  In 1951, LIFE magazine sent her to Irael with the Israeli Philharmonic. Orkin then went to Italy and met Nina Lee Craig, an art student and fellow American, in Florence. Craig became the subject of the photograph “American Girl in Italy.” It 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.
On her return to New York, Orkin married the photographer and filmmaker Morris Engel. Together they produced two feature films, including the classic Little Fugitive, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1953. From their New York apartment overlooking Central Park, Orkin photographed marathons, parades, concerts, demonstrations and the beauty of the changing seasons. These photographs were the subject of two widely acclaimed books, A World Through My Window and More Pictures From My Window. Orkin died in 1985, after a long struggle with cancer.