Ruth Orkin

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Biographical notes

Ruth Orkin was born in 1921 in Boston, Massachussetts. The daughter of Mary Ruby, a silent film actress, and of Samuel Orkin, a toy boat manufacturer, she grew up in Hollywood in the golden years of the twenties and the thirties. At ten she was given her first camera, a 39 cent Univex, and she began snapping her friends and teachers at school.

When she was 17 Ruth made a long bicycle trip from Los Angeles to New York to visit the Universal Exhibition of 1939. Bringing her camera always with her, she took photos in Washington, Chicago and Boston. In 1943 she moved to New York where she began to work for well-known magazines. Always an enthusiast of music and film, she photographed musicians in concert, actors and famous people.

In 1951, thanks to LIFE magazine, she travelled to Israel to follow the Israeli Philharmonic. Subsequently she went to Florence where she met Nina Lee Craig, an American art history student who became the protagonist of American Girl in Italy.

The photographer returned to New York and joined the Photo League, where she met Morris Engel, whom she married in 1952. Together they produced two feature films, including the classic Little Fugitive.

In 1959 her son Andy was born, and their second child Mary was born in 1961. Between 1976 and 1978 Orkin taught in New York in the School of Visual Arts and in 1980 in the International Center of Photography.

Ruth Orkin died in 1985 in the same apartment she shared with Morris Engel and from which she took many photographs.

All images © Ruth Orkin Photo Archive.