Photographer Arthur Rothstein Dies; Captured Depression Era

Times Staff Writer

The photographer credited with graphically capturing the despair of the nation’s Depression-era Dust Bowl is dead.

Arthur Rothstein was 70 and died Monday at his home in New Rochelle, N.Y. He suffered from cancer.

Although he was honored often for his voluminous portfolio and taught at some of the country’s leading universities, it was the photos that he and a handful of other cameramen took for the federal Farm Security Administration in the late 1930s for which he was renowned and will be remembered.

Probably the single most famous of all those pictures is “Dust Storm, Cimarron County, Oklahoma--1936,” showing a father and his two small children struggling to walk amid a maelstrom of grit.


Over the years the picture came to represent the economic horror implicit in the drought that blanketed the heart of America’s farmland and sent many of her farmers on a Western migration.

A single reprint of the picture brought $700 at a New York auction this year.

New York Native

Rothstein was a native of New York City who became chief photographer for his college newspaper at Columbia College. After graduating he became the first photographer on the staff of the Farm Security Administration, one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal agencies.


In that capacity he traversed the country illustrating what the Depression meant to rural America.

In 1940 he became a photographer for Look magazine but left at the outbreak of World War II to work for the Office of War Information in Washington and then in the Far East as an officer in the Army Signal Corps.

He rejoined Look after the war and remained with the picture magazine as photographer and photo editor until the publication failed in 1971.

During that time his pictures ranged from the destruction of war to grinning Presidents and Soviet diplomats to the figure of a little boy in a bathing suit trying to lift a bucket of mud at the seaside.

In 1972, he joined Parade magazine and served as associate editor, director of photography and, until his death, as a consultant.

He taught from 1961 to 1971 as an adjunct professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University and was the Spencer Chair professor at the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. He also served on the faculty of the Parsons School of Design.