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Ruth Orkin

Expressions of Life

A top-down photograph of a group of people laying down on a grey picnic blanket in the grass

Expressions of Life is an emotional, inspiring, and romantic chronicle of the pioneering photographer and filmmaker Ruth Orkin. Featuring landmark photographs from her work across Hollywood, New York City, Israel and Italy, the exhibition celebrates the Orkin’s centennial, and showcases her as a master of intimacy, warmth, and boldness behind the camera.

From photographs of her monumental cross country bicycle trip at age 17 and behind-the-scenes of MGM Studios as the first “messenger girl” in 1941, to European adventures and spontaneous, cinematic New York City moments – Expressions of Life spotlights some of her most renowned photographs: American Girl in Italy (1951), Bernstein in Green Room, Carnegie Hall, NYC, (1950), and Einstein at Princeton luncheon, NJ (1953), among others.

A black and white photograph of a crowd on a street corner
American Girl in Italy, 1951 © Ruth Orkin Photo Archive
A photograph of a child at a festival dangling cotton candy above their head to eat it
Richie Eating Cotton Candy, Little Fugitive, Coney Island, NYC, 1953 © Ruth Orkin Photo Archive
A photograph of a crowd of people standing on a sidewalk on Sixth Avenue in New York City
Sixth Avenue, NYC, 1949 © Ruth Orkin Photo Archive

About the Artist

Ruth Orkin was an award-winning photojournalist and filmmaker, born in Boston. She grew up in Hollywood in the heyday of the 1920s and 1930s, and at the age of ten received her first camera, a 39 cent Univex. At 17 years old she took a monumental bicycle trip across the United States from Los Angeles to New York City to see the 1939 World’s Fair, photographing along the way. She briefly attended Los Angeles City College to pursue photojournalism, but decided to instead become the first messenger at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios in 1941.

In 1943, Orkin moved to New York City to pursue a career as a photographer, working mostly in nightclubs until she received her first assignment from The New York Times to photograph Leonard Bernstein in 1945. Orkin honed her skills in portraiture by spending the summer of 1946 documenting the Tanglewood Music Festival. Later that year, LOOK published her first major photo essay, Jimmy, the Storyteller. She sent the series to Edward Steichen at the Museum of Modern Art in 1947, and he subsequently included her in every group photography show at the museum until his retirement, including the great 1955 exhibition, The Family of Man.

Ruth Orkin: Expressions of Life is curated by María Sprowls Cervantes of Fotografiska New York with the generous support of Mary Engel, Director of the Ruth Orkin Photo Archive.