This collection contains the photographs, negatives, contact sheets, correspondence, printed material, and research files of and about American photographer Arthur Rothstein (1915-1985).
Scope and Content
This collection contains the photographs, negatives, contact sheets, correspondence,
printed material, and research files of and about American photographer Arthur Rothstein
(1915-1985). Photographic material comprises the core of this collection, and spans Rothstein’s
entire career as a photographer for the Farm Security Administration (hereafter FSA),
the United States Army Signal Corps and Office of War Information, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration,
magazine, and the Utah Oral History Institute. The majority of photographic material consists of black
and white silver gelatin prints, and some color negatives and prints. The collection is made up of ten series:
FSA, China, Other Countries, Politicians and Presidents, Life – United States, Utah, Negatives, Photographs – Other Creators,
Professional Papers, and Personal Papers. Series I-VIII consist of photographic prints and negatives, while Series IX-X contain
printed material, correspondence, ephemera, and some photographic material, including personal photographs.
In the case of untitled photographs, supplied titles appear in brackets. Series of related
photographs are indicated by a bracketed number after the title, which refers to the amount
of different views in the grouping. Prints appear in two locations depending on their size:
those 11 x 14 and smaller are in flat archival boxes, and those larger than 11 x 14 are in oversize boxes.
If an object has two locations, it will be listed twice.
Series I: Farm Security Administration, 1935-1942
This series comprises photographic prints produced by Rothstein as a photographer for the Resettlement Administration
(FSA after 1937). The titles correspond to those supplied by the Farm Security Administration and the Library of
Congress. When available, the Library of Congress call number for a corresponding negative has been supplied.
Subjects include farmers and migrant workers, the Dust Bowl, ranchers and rodeos, urban and rural landscapes,
classroom scenes, logging and mining, and scenes of daily life across the United States between the years of 1935
and 1942. Also includes photographs of public leaders, including President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Farm Security
Administration director Rexford Tugwell, and George Washington Carver. Photographs are organized alphabetically
according to the region and state in which they were taken. Includes oversize material.
Series II: China, 1944-1947
This series consists of Rothstein’s work in China as a photographer for the United States Army Signal Corps
(1944-1946) and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (hereafter UNRRA, 1946-1947).
Subjects include conditions of famine and starvation, the distribution of UNRRA aid in various villages and
refugee camps, a camp for Jewish refugees from Europe in Shanghai, individual portraits, temple exteriors
and interiors, and the urban and rural landscapes. Photographs have been organized alphabetically by title,
and related photographs have been grouped together (i.e. “UNRRA aid, assorted views). The series divided into
the following subseries, based on discrete assignments and subject matter:
Subseries 1: Starvation and UNRRA Aid, 1946-1947
Subseries 2: Landscape and Built Environment, 1944-1947
Subseries 3: People, 1944-1947
Subseries 4: European Refugees, 1946.
Series III: Other Countries, 1944-1967
This series comprises photographs from Rothstein’s travels to Europe, Africa, Asia, and Central America,
under various personal and professional capacities, including work as a United States Army Signal Corps
photographer, and as a photographer for
magazines. Subjects include the
aftermath of World War II in the United Kingdom, Germany, and Austria, views of architecture, religious
ceremonials, and daily life in India, Communist Russia and Ukraine (including May Day parades in Red
Square), wildlife on a safari in Kenya, coal mining in Wales, and domestic and daily life in Italy.
Photographs are organized alphabetically by the country in which they were taken, and then alphabetically
by title. Includes oversize material.
Series IV: Politicians and Presidents, 1940-1979
This series contains portraits and candid views of American presidents, presidential candidates,
and other elected public officials, and their families. The bulk of these photographs were taken
by Rothstein for publication in
magazines, when possible, a
cross-citation for the article(s) in which the photograph appeared has been provided. Note that
some photographs of Franklin Delano Roosevelt appear in Series I: FSA, since they were taken
under the auspices of said organization. Photographs are grouped according to individual (last
name, first name), and then alphabetically by title.
Series V: Life – United States, 1930-1981
This series contains photographs taken by Rothstein for
other publications, as well as photographs unrelated to his professional activities as
photographer for the Farm Security Administration or Office of War Information. When
available, information to the corresponding publication in which a photograph has appeared
has been provided. The series is divided into the following subseries based on subject matter.
Within each subseries, photographs are organized alphabetically by title, with bracketed
supplied titles appearing first. Includes oversize material.
Subseries I: People
includes portraits of celebrities, performers, athletes, religious
leaders, and other public figures (excepting elected officials, who appear in Series IV),
social and sporting events, student life and colleges and universities (Columbia
University, Cornell University, Harvard University, and University of Wisconsin,
among others), parades, circuses, musical performances, medical procedures, military
activities (World War II and after), and other scenes of daily life. This series also
includes a group of photographs of the adult Darrell Coble, who was pictured as a toddler
in Rothstein’s 1936 photographs of dust storm damage in Cimarron County, Oklahoma.
Subseries II: Landscape and built environment
consists of photographs in which landscape
predominates, although some may still include people. Includes photographs of the
natural landscape, including the Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains, and the Pacific
Coast, cityscapes, storefronts, and street scenes.
Subseries III: Still life
includes images of flowers and other plant matter,
fruit and vegetables, assorted food products, tabletop displays, and other objects.
Considerable amount of color photographs, some of which are likely related to
Rothstein’s research and work in three-dimensional photography techniques. Many
are oversized. There are also a small number of photograms in this series.
Series VI: Utah, 1985
This series contains photographs taken by Rothstein for the photography
project and exhibition, “Working together: A Utah Portfolio.” In the spring
of 1982, the Utah-based Oral History Institute launched an “Ethnic and minority
documentary project,” which sought to document the lives of eight communities
living in the state: African American, Greek, Jewish, Japanese, Hispanic,
Chinese, Italian, and Ute. Rothstein joined the project in early 1985, and
worked alongside other photographers, including George Janecek and Kent Miles.
Includes oversize material. The series is divided into the following subseries,
based on subject matter.
Subseries 1: Landscape, Natural environment
contains images of rock formations at Arches
National Park and petroglyphs at the Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument in Canyonlands
Subseries 2: Landscape, Built environment
contains views of Salt Lake City and its environs,
including the Mormon Temple, Temple Square, and the Saltair Pavillion and resort. There are
also several views of abandoned buildings and vacant lots.
Subseries 3: Mining
consists of exterior views of a copper mine at Bingham, Utah, and
assorted views of miners, offices, and equipment at the Kaiser coal mine in Helper, Utah.
Subseries 4: Portraits and people
pertains to the individual subjects of the Oral History
Institute’s Ethnic and Minority Documentary project, primarily featuring portraits of Ute,
Japanese, and Hispanic communities living in Utah.
Series VII: Photographs – Other Creators, 1848-1983
This series consists of photographs printed or collected by and/or given to Rothstein
throughout his career. A significant number of these photographs are copy prints, related
to volumes of “masterpieces” from late 19th and early 20th century photographic history,
published by the Photographic Historical Society of New York for sale to the general public.
Photographs were selected, reprinted, and compiled into portfolios by Rothstein, and includes
work by Alfred Stieglitz, Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, Walker Evans, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Oscar Rejlander,
Henry Peach Robinson, Timothy O’Sullivan, Matthew Brady, Lewis Hine, and others. This series also includes
two sets of complete portfolios. Also included in the series are images by other photographers for
and other magazines, as well as additional images by other FSA photographers, including John
Vachon, Russell Lee, and Marion Post Wolcott. Several of the photographs in this series were given as gifts to
Rothstein; they frequently have inscriptions or writing on the reverse side of the print. Photographs have been
organized alphabetically by creator (last name, first name). Those by unknown or unidentified photographers appear
at the end of the series.
Series VIII: Negatives, 1935-1985
This series contains black and white and color negatives, many of which are copy negatives produced
for specific exhibitions over the course of Rothstein’s career, related to the above listed photographic
prints. It has been organized into subseries that correspond to series I-VII (
FSA, China, Other Countries,
Politicians and Presidents, Life – United States, Utah, and Photographs – Other Creators).
Within each folder,
individual sleeves containing negatives are arranged in the same order in which their corresponding
photographic prints are organized (e.g. for the FSA folder, negatives appear alphabetically by region,
and for the China folder, negatives have been divided into folders labeled “Starvation and UNRRA Aid,”
“People,” “Landscape and Built Environment,” and “European Refugees,” and so on). Individual sleeves are
labeled with the title and date of the enclosed negative(s). Corresponding contact prints have been noted
in the finding aid, and are enclosed with the negatives in their individual sleeves.
Negatives appear in two locations depending on their size: those 8x10 or smaller are in a standing file
box, and those that have 11x14 dimensions are in an archival box. As with the photographic prints, if an
object has two locations, it will appear listed twice. The same folder groupings apply for both locations.
The researcher should also note that a considerable amount of negatives, particularly those relating to
“China” and “Other Countries,” do not have a corresponding photographic print in this collection.
Series IX: Professional Papers, 1903-2000, bulk dates, 1935-1985
This series contains research material, articles and clippings, correspondence, and photographic
material pertaining to Rothstein’s career as a photographer for various organizations, including the
FSA, the Office of War Information and the United States military, the UNRRA,
magazines, among others. It has been organized into three subseries:
Subseries 1: 3-D research
contains material related to Rothstein’s prolific work in the areas of
color and three-dimensional photography during the 1960s and 1970s, including his efforts to
develop new techniques for shooting and printing stereoscopic and parallax images. Articles and
clippings range from excerpts from scientific treatises and reports on optical illusion and depth
perception, patents for parallax stereograms and panoramagrams, instruction manuals for wide-angle
and three dimensional photography, and various magazine and newspapers articles. Some of this
material is in French and German. There are several folders of correspondence, mostly inter-office
memoranda members of Look and Cowles Communications, Inc. The series also contains numerous
examples of 3-D photographs collected by Rothstein, and unused materials and supplies (mostly
screens and transparencies).
Subseries 2: China
contains articles, correspondence, and photographic material related to
the 1980s discovery of Rothstein’s 1946-1947 photographs of UNRRA aid as well as a trip to
Shanghai taken by the photographer in 1984. Includes some material related to a proposed
book project (
unpublished) about Jewish refugees living in China
during World War II.
Subseries 3: General Material
includes substantial amounts of newspaper and magazine
clippings reproducing or featuring Rothstein’s work, as well as correspondence, research
material, and a large collection of study prints from editorial libraries and museums.
Also includes a folder of FSA “shooting scripts,” which were instructions from Roy Stryker
and other individuals to photographers detailing the arrangement, approach, and subject
matter of photographic coverage.
Series X: Personal Papers, 1910s-1985
This series includes correspondence from family and friends, as well as personal
correspondence (postcards, greeting cards) from other FSA photographers. There is
also material relating to Rothstein’s military service, resumes, job applications,
and one folder with clippings, student work, and two photographs from Columbia
This series includes a substantial amount of personal photographs, which have
been separated into categories based on subject matter. Photographs have been
organized in rough chronological order, but the majority are undated and unlabeled.
Subjects range from snapshots of family gatherings and travels, childhood
photographs, as well as images pertaining to Rothstein’s career, including
photoshoots and conferences. The latter group of images, though relating to
professional activities, was originally interfiled in Rothstein’s personal files;
for this reason, the original order has been preserved. This series also contains a
small number of slides, which consist mostly of views of Rothstein’s New Rochelle
residence taken for insurance purposes, and two personal scrapbooks which may
provide contextual information to other photographs in this series.
A prominent American photographer and photojournalist of the twentieth century,
Arthur Rothstein was born on July 17, 1915 in New York, New York. The youngest
son of Latvian immigrants, he grew up in the Bronx and attended Stuyvesant High
School. He took his undergraduate degree at Columbia College (BA, Chemistry, 1935),
where he developed an interest in the technical aspects of photography and was a
founding member of the Columbia University Camera Club. Upon graduation Rothstein was
hired as a lab assistant and photographer by Roy Stryker, a Columbia economist and head
of the Resettlement Administration’s Historical Section. Stryker had been asked by colleagues
in the Roosevelt administration to form a group of documentary photographers to work within
what became known as the Farm Security Administration. In addition to Rothstein, FSA photographers
included Jack Delano, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Carl Mydans, Gordon Parks, John
Vachon, and Marion Post Wolcott, among others. The work of these photographers was circulated
nationally, and did much to crystallize public attention on impoverished conditions in both rural
and urban America.
In October 1935, Rothstein completed his first field assignment, photographing evicted farmers in
the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. The following year, he traveled to the Midwest to document
the large-scale human and environmental devastation of the Dust Bowl, producing what would soon become
iconic photographs of tenant farm families and drought-stricken land. Subsequent FSA projects resulted
in a diverse and prolific body of work, including images of Pittsburgh steel workers, African-American
tenant farmers at Gee’s Bend, Alabama, Western ranchers and cowhands, rural schoolchildren, Manhattan
skyscrapers, and snow-covered New England landscapes.
Speaking about his tenure with the FSA in a 1964 interview, Rothstein likened his photographic approach to
“the unobtrusive camera,” or “the idea of becoming a part of the environment that people are in to such an
extent that they’re not even aware that pictures are being taken.”
In 1940, Rothstein joined the staff of the popular periodical
and also traveled internationally under the auspices of various organizations and institutions over the
course of the decade. During World War II, he served as a photo officer for the United States Army Signal
Corps in China, Burma, and India. In 1946, he worked in China as a photographer for the United Nations
Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, documenting primarily conditions of famine as well as Jewish
Over the following decades, Rothstein continued his career with
having been named its director of photography in 1946. After
publication in 1971, Rothstein worked as an editor and director of photography at
Rothstein was an active writer, researcher, and teacher, holding positions on the faculties of the
Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, the School of Public Communications at Syracuse
University, Mercy College, and Parsons School of Design. In the 1960s and 1970s, he dedicated
considerable professional energies to researching color and three-dimensional photography, helping
develop the Xograph printing process for three-dimensional images.
Among his publications include:
Photographic Book Co., 1956),
Creative Color in Photography
(Clifton Books, 1963),
Look at Us, Let’s See; Here We Are…
(with William Saroyan, Cowles, 1967),
Color Photography Now
(American Photographic Book Co., 1970),
The Depression Years
Arthur Rothstein: Words and Pictures
(Amphoto/Billboard Publications, 1979),
American West in the Thirties
Arthur Rothstein’s America in Photographs,
(Dover, 1984), and
(posthumously, Focal Press, 1986).
Rothstein died on November 11, 1985 in New Rochelle, New York.
Arthur Rothstein and Richard Doud, “Arthur Rothstein Talks with Richard Doud
[original transcript, 1964],”
Archives of American Art
17, no. 1 (1977): 19-23.
The Photographs of Arthur Rothstein,
introduction by George Packer. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 2011. Pages viii-xiii.