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Ruth Orkin – Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, France

19 Sep — 14 Jan 2024



SEPTEMBER 19, 2023 – JANUARY 14, 2024


For the first time in France, the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson presents a solo exhibition on American photographer Ruth Orkin (1921-1985), internationally known for her photograph American Girl in Italy (1951), an iconic image of a woman traveling alone. While still a teenager, Orkin undertook a pioneering journey across the United States from West to East.

In 1939, at 17 and still living with her parents in Los Angeles, Ruth Orkin decided to cross the United States solo, from the Pacific to the Atlantic. She traveled less by bicycle than with a bicycle, crossing long distances by car, train, and bus, using her bicycle to explore big cities: Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, New York, Boston and San Francisco.

Over a four-month period, she took 350 photographs: urban scenes, numerous self-portraits and striking compositions framed by her bicycle. In each city she visited, local newspapers covered her story, interviewing and photographing her. With the unexpected publicity, she was invited everywhere, given tickets to shows, and even received a new two-wheeler.

Orkin’s stated aim upon departure was to visit the New York World’s Fair, but the transcontinental adventure proved far more decisive. It was a defining moment in her personal and artistic development, confirming the old adage: it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.

The exhibition brings together around forty photographs and archival documents, including Ruth Orkin’s manuscript on this adventure.

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