Photographer by Ruth Orkin Captured Stunning Color Photographs of New York City in the 1950s

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Ruth Orkin was a trailblazing photojournalist and filmmaker, whose passion for photography began at a young age. Born in Boston, Orkin grew up in Hollywood during the 1920s and 1930s, and was gifted her first camera, a 39 cent Univex, at the age of 10. It was a gift that would change the course of her life.


At 17 years old, Orkin embarked on a monumental bicycle trip across the United States, from Los Angeles to New York City, to see the 1939 World’s Fair. Along the way, she documented her journey through photographs, igniting her passion for photojournalism. She briefly attended Los Angeles City College to pursue her love for the craft, but fate had other plans for her.

In 1941, Orkin became the first messenger at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios. However, her dreams of becoming a photojournalist never waned. In 1943, she moved to New York City to pursue a career in photography, working mostly in nightclubs until she received her first assignment from The New York Times in 1945, to photograph Leonard Bernstein.

She continued to hone her skills in portraiture, spending the summer of 1946 documenting the Tanglewood Music Festival. Her big break came later that year when LOOK magazine published her first major photo essay, “Jimmy, the Storyteller.” The series caught the eye of Edward Steichen, the renowned curator at the Museum of Modern Art, who subsequently included her in every group photography show at the museum until his retirement. This included the groundbreaking 1955 exhibition, “The Family of Man.”

Orkin’s work as a photographer continued to flourish over the years, and she later expanded into filmmaking, directing several documentaries and feature films. Her achievements in both fields earned her numerous accolades, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and an Emmy Award.

Ruth Orkin’s legacy as a pioneering photojournalist and filmmaker is a testament to her unwavering passion and talent. Her work continues to inspire and captivate audiences today, and her influence on the art form will undoubtedly endure for generations to come.


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