For the first time in France, the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson hosts a solo exhibition dedicated to the famous American photographer Ruth Orkin. She is internationally acclaimed for her iconic photograph “American Girl in Italy” (1951), which captures a woman traveling alone.
During his teenage years, Orkin embarked on an innovative journey across the United States, from the West Coast to the East Coast. In 1939, at the age of 17 and still living with her parents in Los Angeles, Ruth Orkin made the bold decision to cross the United States alone, from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic. Her mode of travel was not primarily by bicycle, but rather she used a bicycle while she traversed great distances by car, train, and bus. Her bicycle served as a means of exploring major cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, New York, Boston, and San Francisco.
Over the course of four months, she captured 350 photographs, including urban scenes, numerous self-portraits and captivating compositions framed against the backdrop of her bicycle. In every city she visited, local newspapers chronicled her journey, interviewing her and photographing her. The unexpected attention led to invitations, free tickets to the show and even the gift of a new bicycle. Orkin’s initial goal was to visit the New York World’s Fair, but the transcontinental adventure proved to be much more crucial. She became a defining moment in her personal and artistic development, affirming the age-old adage: “It’s not the destination, but the journey.” The exhibition brings together around forty photographs and archival documents, including Ruth Orkin’s manuscript which recounts this extraordinary adventure.
The curator of the exhibition is Clément Chéroux, director of the Fondation HCB with the support of RATP.
The exhibition is accompanied by a book published by Textuel.
About the Author
Born in Boston in 1921, Ruth Orkin grew up in Hollywood. She received her first camera at the age of 10 and immediately began capturing images of her friends and teachers at school. In 1938, at age 17, she undertook a monumental cross-country bicycle journey from Los Angeles to New York to attend the 1939 World’s Fair, documenting her experiences along the way. In 1943 she moved to New York and began working for major magazines, including LIFE, which sent her to Israel in 1951. She later traveled to Italy, where she met Jinx Allen, an art student and fellow American, who became the subject of his famous photograph, “American Girl in Italy”. This photograph was part of a series entitled “When You Travel Alone”, which explores the experiences of women traveling alone in post-war Europe. Upon returning to New York, Orkin married the photographer and director Morris Engel, and together they produced two feature films, including “Little Fugitive,” which received an Oscar nomination in 1953. From their New York apartment overlooking Central Park, Orkin documented numerous events such as marathons, parades, concerts, and the beauty of the changing seasons. Ruth Orkin died in 1985.
Ruth Orkin: Bike Trip, Usa 1939
September 19, 2023 – January 14, 2024
Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson – Paris – France