Ormond Gigli (1925-2019) was a longtime photographer for Time, LIFE, Paris Match and other magazines. He shot everything from farmers to movie stars in his decades long career. Some photos become iconic and define an era; Horst with the corset shot, Alfred Eisenstaedt with the sailor kissing the girl in Times Square, Dorothea Lange‘s Migrant Mother. I think that this is one of the great ones. Girls in the Windows was taken on New York City’s East 58th Street in 1960, and it was shot on a whim by Gigli, who left this mortal coil this week, gone at 94 years old.
Gigli was born in New York City in 1925. As a teenager, his father offered him his first camera. Ormond Gigli was fond of photography. He graduated from the School of Modern Photography in 1942 and served in the Navy as a photographer during World War II. He spent some time living the bohemian life in Paris. His career took off in 1952 when a LIFE editor hired him to do a series of celebrity portraits and to cover the Paris fashion shows. He garnered attention when one of his pictures was published in the center spread of the magazine. It started a fashion photographer career of more than four decades.
He shot Sophia Loren, Anita Ekberg, John F. Kennedy, Gina Lollabrigida, Diana Vreeland, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Louis Armstrong, Laurence Olivier, Alan Bates and Richard Burton among others.
”One morning I glanced out of the window of my studio in Manhattan and noticed that a row of brownstones opposite were being prepared for demolition. Looking at the design of the empty windows, an idea struck me: put a woman wearing colorful clothes in each of the openings.
I sent over someone from my staff to talk to the demolition supervisor. He agreed to let us go ahead – provided we used his wife in the photograph. We could shoot the next day during their lunch hour, he said. After that, the building would be gone.
So, with 24 hours to pull it off, we called up all our contacts to find models and locate a Rolls-Royce to sit on the sidewalk in front. I had a good reputation, as I was working for Time and LIFE magazines, so it was quite easy to convince people.
The next morning I was in the studio, on East 58th Street between First and Second Avenue, and had the feeling that it wasn’t going to work out. Then my assistant came in and said: ‘Ormond, you’d better get the camera up on the fire escape. There are people filling up the windows and more coming in taxis’. All of a sudden it was happening.”
There were models, socialites, my wife (second floor, far right), the supervisor’s wife (third floor, third from left), all wearing their best dresses. I moved them around to spread out the colors and told them to pose as if they were giving someone a kiss. As I was photographing, I noticed some of them were on the windowsills. As these were made of cement and sometimes break off, I shouted at them through a bullhorn to stay within the frames.
The noon sun was overhead, and the light shone between the streets. Miraculously, the police didn’t come by and stop us – and, within an hour, I’d got my shot.”
The photograph is the centerpiece of his book Girls In The Windows: And Other Stories. He was living on East 58th Street, in a brownstone and developers were razing the brownstones across the street to make room for a modern building. Gigli saw a grid of windows as 40 stages on which to mount a drama of creation and destruction in the big city. The image eclipses the others in the book, which pays homage to his rich body of work.
The brownstones in the photo are gone now. But Girls in the Windows is still admired and imitated.