The iconic black-and-white photograph of a young woman being ogled by men on an Italian street has been removed from the Center City restaurant Gran Caffe L’Aquila after its owner said he recently received about two dozen complaints from customers that it depicts sexual harassment.
The poster-size image had hung along the main staircase to the second floor of the Italian restaurant, visible to a portion of its second-floor dining room through a picture window, since its opening in December 2014.
Co-owner Riccardo Longo said complaints began last month, shortly after Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein began facing public accusations of harassment, unleashing a torrent of allegations against powerful men and opening new dialogue on the subject.
Longo said customers approached him directly to express their discomfort with the Ruth Orkin print from 1951, titled “An American Girl in Italy.” Several even “took the time to write letters,” said Longo, 46. “These are good clients who love the restaurant but are just not comfortable with that photo.”
“I look at it like this: We consider people guests in our home,” Longo said. “We don’t want you to be uncomfortable.”
Longo said he and his family’s restaurants over the last four decades have hung versions of the photo, which Orkin shot in Florence after asking a fellow American traveler to walk along a street through a cluster of men.
The image is a popular decor item at Italian restaurants worldwide.
“We put it on the wall because people loved it,” Longo said. “In the matter of one month, the whole dialogue completely reversed.”
The photo came down Thursday morning, replaced with a photo of L’Aquila, Italy, where the original restaurant stood before a 2009 earthquake destroyed much of the town. The photo shows a statue, created by Nicola D’Antino, of a nude man; in the 1970s, a Catholic archbishop protested it.
Mary Engel of New York, who has managed her mother’s photographic portfolio since her 1985 death and licenses the image, said this week: “The photo shows an independent strong woman, and it was a different time, and a different culture. It was not shot or meant to illustrate sexual harassment in any way. I was very surprised when Riccardo called and said he was considering removing the photo because of complaints he has received about it. I don’t think it should be removed, and this has never been an issue in the past.”
The model herself — Ninalee “Jinx” Allen Craig — told the Inquirer that she was “heartbroken” to hear that the photograph could be perceived as depicting harassment, and believed that Longo should have resisted the outcry.
Now 90 and a retired copywriter living in Toronto, Craig remains keenly interested in American life. She said she was heartened to know that “women have found the courage to talk about real harassment. … It’s a wake-up call.”
Craig said abuse of power in a physical sense is wrong, but being catcalled or whistled at on the street is “a sign of respect. I don’t know why women object to being whistled at or to hear a comment. It’s nice to hear ‘que bella,’ ‘hello, girl’ — if it is verbal compliment.”
On that August morning near the Hotel Berchielli — where Craig and Orkin had met the day before and stayed in dollar-a-night rooms — Orkin took two photos, neither staged.
Craig, who stood 6 feet tall, said: “I was holding my head high, as a tall stranger walking through the city. I felt strong. This is the spirit in which that photo must be kept and considered.”
“It was the spirit of 1951,” Craig said. Americans were postwar heroes.
Orkin also viewed her image as empowering to women, Engel said. Orkin herself was an inveterate solo traveler; in 1939, she rode her bike by herself from her Los Angeles-area home to see the New York World’s Fair.
The photo appeared in a 1952 Cosmopolitan magazine article about solo travel. The caption read in part: “Ogling the ladies is a popular, harmless and flattering pastime you’ll run into in many foreign countries. The gentlemen are usually louder and more demonstrative than American men, but they mean no harm.”
Asked how she would feel if the photo were to be taken in 2017 of a 23-year-old version of herself, Craig replied: “I’d love it. If someone goes ‘wow,’ it makes me walk a little taller. I even get it today with my walker. I think the women who are objecting — I think it’s much ado about nothing. There’s enough in the world to really protest.”