Where Are They Now of the Day: Ruth Orkin’s “American Girl in Italy” was snapped exactly 60 years ago this Monday. Its subject, Ninalee Craig, poses above in the very same orange shawl featured in the iconic photo.
Craig, then 23, was traveling through Europe when she met Orkin, then 29, at a budget hotel in Florence. “We talked about traveling alone and asked each other, ‘Are you having a hard time? Are you ever bothered?’,” Craig recalls. “We both found that we were having a wonderful time, and only some things were a little difficult.” They decided to walk around the city looking for the perfect scene to illustrate what it felt like being a young single woman traveling alone.
It was during two hours of “horsing around” that Orkin snapped the well-known shot. Craig vehemently denies that the picture was staged. “The men were just there,” she says. “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].” Orkin’s daughter Mary Engel, keeper of her mother’s photographic archive since Orkin’s passing in 1985, mostly agrees with Craig, but says Orkin did ask “the man on motorcycle to tell the other men not to look at the camera.”
Addressing the question of the photo’s foreboding mise en scène, Craig says it’s wrong to view it through a negative lens. “It’s not a symbol of harassment,” she says. “It’s a symbol of a woman having an absolutely wonderful time!”