The Illusion of Time - Ruth Orkin (1921–1985)

The exhibition is open to the public:
11 October 2023 – 14 January 2024
Tuesday – Sunday from 12 to 7 pm.
Closed on Mondays and public holidays
Curators: Anne Morin, Péter Baki
Opening: 10 October 2023, Tuesday, 6 pm.
Opening speech by Anne Morin, curator of the exhibition

Pursuing a career as a filmmaker in the United States during the first half of the 20th century was an obstacle course for women. Women were engaged in feeding the factory of dreams, but not in making them, which meant that all careers behind the camera were unquestionably earmarked for men. Ruth Orkin (Boston, September 3, 1921 – New York, January 16, 1985) had to renounce her vocation, or at least redirect and transform it, and this setback would perhaps lead to definitively shaping her photographic work.

Orkin was the only child of Mary Ruby, a silent-film actress, and Samuel Orkin, a manufacturer of toy boats called Orkin Craft, and she grew up in Hollywood in the heyday of the 1920s and 1930s. She received her first camera, a 39-cent Univex, at the age of ten. Though she did start to take photos, Ruth Orkin’s real passion was for the moving image, for filmmaking.

She worked for a while as a messenger at Metro Goldwyn Mayer, moving quickly from one department to another and yet taking the time to let her eyes wander and learn many things that she would constantly put into practice in her still images. She was simultaneously studying photojournalism at Los Angeles City College in the early 1940s and embarked on a career as a reportage photographer for major illustrated magazines such as LIFE, Look and Ladies Home Journal, among others.

But what would remain always implicit in her work was her fascination with the heuristic power of cinema. And it was this lost opportunity to follow her vocation that would compel Orkin to work within its margins and invent a language at the juncture of the two genres, a language that lies in a middle ground between the moving and the still image, thereby leading to an ongoing correspondence between two parallel temporalities.

If we analyse Orkin’s work, it is evident that the ghost of cinema—which appears in a variety of forms from the outset of her early images—slithers into the tiny cracks of the frame to create a dual depth in the image, in which the flow of movement begins its tempo: a spark, an imprint that encloses a “filmic or duration effect,” a simulated duration which is like one of cinema’s invisible tricks, for is not film ultimately the art of movement produced from stillness?

To simulate film, Orkin strove to combine the temporal characteristics of the photographic image. Sequences, the decomposition of movement, duplication and simultaneity: her visual language lies at the juncture of the photographic image and cinema, at the crossroads of stillness and movement. Her photography is a melting pot, a space that restores time and movement, pushing photographic language beyond its limits until it yields to the power of illusion and magic.  

Anne Morin

In order to see the gallery please click or tap on one side of the image.
Ruth Orkin: Jinx and Justin in MG, Florence, Italy, 1951
Ruth Orkin: Boy Jumping into Hudson River, Gansevoort Pier, New York City, 1948
Ruth Orkin: Geraldine Dent, Women at fruit stand, New York City, 1949
Ruth Orkin: American Girl in Italy, Florence, Italy, 1951
Ruth Orkin: Albert Einstein at a Princeton Luncheon, Princeton, New Jersey, 1955
Ruth Orkin: The Card Players, New York City, 1952
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