The Lookout

American girl in Italy: 60 years later

The Lookout

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‘American Girl’ photo: American Girl in Italy, 1951 © 1952, 1980 Ruth Orkin / Courtesy of Stephen Bulger Galle …

A stunning young woman walks down a street in Florence, her head held high. All around, men playfully gawk at her grace and beauty. Just then the camera shutter snaps. "American Girl in Italy" is among the most popular snapshots of all time, and it's turning 60 years old this month.

The photo, which was shot in 1951, perfectly captures the fun and romance of being abroad. In honor of its birthday, Ninalee Craig, the subject of the photo spoke with the "Today" show about what happened behind the scenes and what the photo really represents.

In an interview with "Today," Craig spoke about how, despite what some might say, the photo isn't a "symbol of harassment." Craig insists that the image is "a symbol of a woman having an absolutely wonderful time."

Craig should know -- when the photo was taken, she was a 23-year-old traveling alone through Europe. While staying at a cheap hotel, Craig met photographer Ruth Orkin, who was also traveling alone. The two spoke about the fun and challenges of being alone while on the road in Italy. They hatched a plan to take photos that focused on what it was like to travel as a single woman.

For two hours, the photographer and amateur model walked the streets of Florence. Photos were taken at markets and in cafes. The street-scene photo came about naturally. According to Craig, Orkin shot only two pictures of her walking down the macho street. One of them turned out to be absolutely iconic.

As for whether or not the photo was staged, Craig says no way. "The big debate about the picture, which everyone always wants to know, is: Was it staged? No! No, no, no! 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 down the street.

In the interview, Craig also remarked that she never felt in danger while walking among the admiring men. "None of those men crossed the line at all," she said.

Craig is now a great-grandmother living in Toronto. Orkin, who passed away in 1985, went on to co-write and co-direct the 1956 Oscar-nominated film "Little Fugitive." Of course, both women will be best remembered for one indelible image that, staged or not, captured the public's imagination and never let go.

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