Archives: American Girl by Ruth Orkin

September 06, 2013

Ruth Orkin has become most famous for her photograph American Girl in Italy (the first in the American Girl series). The unstaged photo depicts Orkin's young room mate, Jinx Allen walking down the street in Florence. The photo has come to stand as a symbol for the way in which women experience public space. The stares, frozen cat calls, and general body language, show a culture steeped in male privilege; and many have interpreted Allen's cross body arm, holding her shawl, as a reaction to this threatening sexual confrontation. 

However, it was 1951, and Jinx Allen was hardly a shrinking violet - she had picked up across the globe, by herself to study art and travel Europe. Similarily, Ruth Orkin was already a full fledged photojournalist working for LIFE magazine, also traveling alone. Both women were highly unorthodox, and Allen's own rememberences of the moment are quite different than the interpretations of others, “It’s not a symbol of harassment. It’s a symbol of a woman having an absolutely wonderful time!”

They were boundless adventurers! Women who did what they wanted to do - Allen was 23 years old when she quit her job, secured third class passage to Europe and traversed France, Spain, and Italy alone. It was only when she arrived in Florence that she met 29 year old Orkin, the two become fast friends, sharing $1/day accommodations on the bank of the Arno River. Here we revisit their journey, and a post WWII Europe through the female eye.














See more from the Ruth Orkin Archives.

Read more about Jinx Allen's Rememberances.

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