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The one thing you should see this week: 1950s Florence—and one beguiling model—through the lens of an American photographer

The one thing you should see this week: 1950s Florence—and one beguiling model—through the lens of an American photographer
Ruth Orkin’s “American Girl in Italy, Florence, 1951” (Image: Copyright 1952, 1980 Ruth Orkin/Courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery)

This week’s pick: Ruth Orkin’s American Girl in Italy series at the Stephen Bulger Gallery.

The image is both gorgeous and absurd: an elegant beauty strides along Florence’s Via Roma, chin upturned, while a gaggle of lascivious men hoot and whistle as she passes. 

American photographer Ruth Orkin shot portraits of Marlon Brando, Lauren Bacall and Albert Einstein, but this photograph remains her most famous, epitomizing the sexual freedom of mid-century Europe and the confident poise of its subject, Ninalee Craig. (Craig, whom Orkin met during her travels, was then known as Jinx Allen; she later moved to Canada and now lives in Yorkville.)

Orkin’s series, American Girl in Italy, is much more than its title shot. Like the best street photography, it serves a documentary function, capturing the spirit of a place and time. But Orkin tempers her realism with a romantic eye, infusing the streets of postwar Florence with an amplified exuberance and glamour.

Meanwhile, Craig is a revelatory subject: you can’t take your eyes off her. Her heavy-lidded Pre-Raphaelite beauty makes her an ideal classical model, but her winsome independence is thoroughly Roman Holiday—she sips coffee, sports goggles and laughs in sidecars. Like Florence itself, the American girl is exuberant yet shrouded in mystery.

The details: To Aug. 27. Reception Aug. 20. Free. Stephen Bulger Gallery, 1026 Queen St. W., 416-504-0575, bulgergallery.com.

N.B.: Ninalee Craig will attend a reception on August 20, which will also include a film retrospective of Orkin’s career.

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