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Arthur Rothstein photograph collection, 1848-2000, (bulk 1932-1985)

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Preferred Citation

Arthur Rothstein photograph collection, 1848-2000, (bulk 1935-1985), Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.

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Summary Information


This collection contains the photographs, negatives, contact sheets, correspondence, printed material, and research files of and about American photographer Arthur Rothstein (1915-1985).

At a Glance

CLIO record: View CLIO record
Creator(s):Rothstein, Arthur, 1915-1985.
Title:Arthur Rothstein photograph collection, 1848-2000, (bulk 1932-1985)
Physical description:4,711 photographic prints and 812 negatives
Language(s):In English
Access: This collection is available for use by appointment in the Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For further information and to make an appointment, please call (212) 854-4110 or email  More information »



The collection is made up of ten series:

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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), Look magazine, the United States Army Signal Corps and Office of War Information, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, Parade 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 Look and Parade 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 Look or Parade 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 Look , Parade , and 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 National Park.

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 Look, Parade, 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, Look and Parade 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 ( Shanghai Haven, 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 University.

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.

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Using the Collection

Access Restrictions

This collection is available for use by appointment in the Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For further information and to make an appointment, please call (212) 854-4110 or email

Restrictions on Use

Columbia University is providing access to the materials in the Library's collections solely for noncommercial educational and research purposes. The unauthorized use, including, but not limited to, publication of the materials without the prior written permission of Columbia University is strictly prohibited. All inquiries regarding permission to publish should be submitted in writing to the Director, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For additional guidance, see Columbia University Libraries' publication policy.

In addition to permission from Columbia University, permission of the copyright owner (if not Columbia University) and/or any holder of other rights (such as publicity and/or privacy rights) may also be required for reproduction, publication, distributions, and other uses. Responsibility for making an independent legal assessment of any item and securing any necessary permissions rests with the persons desiring to publish the item. Columbia University makes no warranties as to the accuracy of the materials or their fitness for a particular purpose.

Preferred Citation

Arthur Rothstein photograph collection, 1848-2000, (bulk 1935-1985), Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.

Related Material

Digital images of many of Arthur Rothstein's Farm Security Administration photographs can by found by searching the Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs Online Catalogs:

Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives

Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs

To browse all works associated with Rothstein, search by the photographer's name. To find a specific image, search by the associated LC call number. The LC call number can be found, when available, in the container list for Series I: FSA.

For Further Information

For more information about using the collections and conducting research in the Department of Drawings & Archives, please see our FAQ.

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About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries. Avery Architecture and Fine Arts Library. Department of Drawings and Archives; machine readable finding aid created by Columbia University Libraries Digital Library Program Division

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Caitlin Beach (Graduate Intern), under the supervision of Shelley Hayreh, Avery Archivist, in 2013.

Machine readable finding aid generated from MARC-AMC source via XSLT conversion October 30, 2013 Finding aid written in English.
    2013-10-30 File created.

CLIO ID: 9419838 View CLIO record

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Index Terms

The names and terms listed below are represented in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a consortial/union catalog offered by OCLC that allows users to search the holdings of multiple archives and libraries.

All links open new windows.

Additional Creators

HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
United States.--Farm Secuity Administration.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
United States.--Office of War Information.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

Geographical Topics

HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
United States--Social life and cusoms--1918-1945--Pictoral works.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Utah--History--Pictorial works.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
China--History--Pictorial works.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
United States--Pictorial works.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Portrait photography--United States.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Documentary photography--United States.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Portrait photography--United States.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Journalism, Pictorial.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

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History / Biographical Note


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 Look, 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 refugee camps.

Over the following decades, Rothstein continued his career with Look, having been named its director of photography in 1946. After Look ceased publication in 1971, Rothstein worked as an editor and director of photography at Parade magazine.

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: Photojournalism (American 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 (Dover, 1978), Arthur Rothstein: Words and Pictures (Amphoto/Billboard Publications, 1979), American West in the Thirties (Dover, 1981), Arthur Rothstein’s America in Photographs, 1930-1980 (Dover, 1984), and Documentary Photography (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 Journal 17, no. 1 (1977): 19-23.

The Photographs of Arthur Rothstein, with an introduction by George Packer. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 2011. Pages viii-xiii.

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