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Ruth Orkin, Nanette Fabray, Set of The Band Wagon, Hollywood, 1952

Ruth Orkin, Nanette Fabray, Set of The Band Wagon, Hollywood, 1952

Ruth Orkin grew up in Hollywood; her mother was a silent-screen actress, and she began taking pictures at age 10 with a 39-cent Univex. She worked briefly at MGM with the idea of becoming a filmmaker, but left when she found out women were barred from joining the cinematographers’ union.

After moving to New York City in 1943, she began working as a freelance photographer, shooting for Look, Life, Ladies’ Home Journal and The New York Times. Her best-known photo, “American Girl in Italy,” published as part of a series that ran in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1952, was not without controversy. (The picture was not in fact pure reportage of a spontaneous moment, but instead was staged to illustrate the leers that she, and other women, faced traveling alone.)

In “Ruth Orkin: Women,” we see photos both posed and candid. One intimate series from late-1940s New York shows women under dryers and in curlers, smoking, reading and chatting in beauty parlors. Another that she pitched to Glamour magazine, “Who Works Harder?,” comparing the lives of stay-at-home moms and women who had outside careers, was a disappointment, however: It’s “great to teach a young woman how many hours it takes to be a mother and a houseworker,” she wrote in notes for an unpublished memoir in 1984, “but they ran the pictures so small it could hardly make any impact.” Here, they are shown in their full glory, along with lively behind-the-scenes candid shots of celebrities, and pictures of all kinds of women captured in ordinary moments when no one seems to be looking.

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