American Girl in Italy: Behind the Iconic Photo

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19th Apr, 2013

It’s not a symbol of harassment. It’s a symbol of a woman having an absolutely wonderful time! I clutched my shawl to me because that sheaths the body. It was my protection, my shield. I was walking through a sea of men. I was enjoying every minute of it.”

In fact, the American girl, Ninalee “Jinx” Allen Craig, even went for a scooter ride with the man on the Vespa seen in the photograph after it was taken. The year was 1951 and having just quit her job in New York, 23 year-old Jinx was touring Europe alone, something women rarely did at the time. She found a hotel in Florence for $1 a day where came across another American girl, Ruth Orkin, who was also traveling alone. Orkin, a 29-year old aspiring photo journalist and Jinx, a statuesque 6-foot beauty, decided to team up for a photo essay documenting what it was like for a woman traveling alone in 1950s Europe.

A rarely-seen contact sheet of the photo essay shows various photographs taken by Orkin of Jinx shopping in the markets, visiting monuments, riding in a carriage, on the back of a vespa with one of the guys from the market and even flirting with another at a café. “We were literally horsing around,” remembers Jinx in a telephone interview with journalist Laura.T Coffey.

The contact sheet also shows that only two shots were taken of the iconic scene where she walks through the crowd of Italian men, debunking rumours that the photograph was staged.

“You don’t have 15 men in a picture and take just two shots. The men were just there … The only thing that happened was that Ruth Orkin was wise enough to ask me to turn around and go back and repeat [the walk]… She told the man on motorcycle to tell the other men not to look at the camera.”

“Some people want to use it as a symbol of harassment of women, but that’s what we’ve been fighting all these years,” says the American girl, now 85. After Orkin’s photograph became famous, the man supposedly pictured grabbing his crotch to the left of Jinx, was censored and airbrushed for many years. But Jinx insists the men were harmless. “Very few of those men had jobs,” she explains, “Italy was recovering from the war and had really been devastated by it … I can tell you that it wasn’t the intent of any man there to harass me.”

Ninalee “Jinx” Allen Craig, pictured left wearing the same orange shawl she wore in the photo more than 60 years ago, later married an Italian and moved to Milan with him for several years. The marriage didn’t last and Craig returned to New York and eventually re-settled with a Canadian husband in Toronto. She is now a grandmother to 10 and a great-grandmother to seven.

(c) Keith Beaty

She remembers that moment fondly, “They were Italian and I love Italians.”

Ruth Orkin's 1951 "American Girl in Italy" - Piazza della Republica, Florence - 22/8/51 - (The girl, Ninalee "Jinx" Allen Craig was an art student that Orkin had met in Italy and although the shot was 'posed', it only took two exposures)

American Girl in color via Colored back to Life

More Ruth Orkin from her American Girl series…

All images thanks to the Ruth Orkin Photo Archive, contact sheet via VisualizeUs

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