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Arthur Rothsteins First Assignment Dying

''His pictures have a particular integrity, an honesty you don't see today,'' said Susan Vermazen, picture editor of New York magazine and a close family friend.

''All of his life he was deeply moved by the torment of people and their triumph in tragedy; he saw dignity in the most urgent of circumstances,'' said Walter Anderson, editor of Parade magazine, where Mr. Rothstein worked until his death.

Mr. Rothstein's journeys as a young man would forever influence him. ''He saw the worst of life but came away stronger, not weaker,'' said Mr. Anderson, who described him as eternally optimistic and energetic.

On a lighter note, Mr. Rothstein was so taken by the way of life in the American West that he always relaxed in Western-style clothes and had a large collection of big brass Western belt buckles that he wore.

After his work for the Farm Security Administration and a short stint as a staff photographer for Look magazine, Mr. Rothstein joined the Office of War Information in Washington in 1941 and then the United States Army in 1943. His assignments took him to the China-Burma-India theater, and after his discharge in 1945 he remained in China to work as chief photographer of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and to take more highly acclaimed photographs.

In 1946 Mr. Rothstein rejoined Look as director of photography and remained with the magazine until its demise in 1971. In 1972, he joined Parade magazine and moved from director of photography to the associate editor's post he held until his death.

Even though he was very concerned with developing the careers of other photographers, Mr. Rothstein never put down his own camera and he particularly enjoyed experimenting with new equipment, techniques and styles. He has published photographs of the United States Presidents from F.D.R. through Ronald Reagan. His last book, ''Documentary Photography,'' will be published this month by Focal Press of Stoneham, Mass.

''His lifetime goal was to see photographers recognized not as snappers but as professionals in their field,'' Mr. Anderson said. ''He would fight for photos and photographers every minute of every day. When he became the first photographer to be selected as a Pulitzer juror, he felt that he had reached his goal.''

Mr. Rothstein was instrumental in convincing Parade's editors not only to give photographers credit when their work appeared in the magazine, but also to pay them more. Those who knew him said Mr. Rothstein was extremely proud of his own photographic accomplishments, but he never dwelled on them and was more interested in the talents of others. ''If he could think of a photographer who could do a better job than he, he would give him the assignment,'' Mr. Anderson recalled.

Mr. Rothstein is remembered by colleagues for his warm personality, his honesty and his straightforwardness.

''He commands respect just by his nature and demeanor,'' said the photographer Eddie Adams of the short and and bald-headed Mr. Rothstein. ''When you first meet him you might think he is cold because he is so formal and neat, but the more you know him, the more you like him.''

He made a habit of taking roses and candy to the secretaries in the office, Mr. Anderson recalled.

Several younger photographers, along with the Pulitzer Prize-winning Mr. Adams, credit Mr. Rothstein with giving them their start. Mr. Adams recalled showing his portfolio to Mr. Rothstein, then at Look magazine. ''He was very pleasant but basically told me there were no openings,'' said Mr. Adams, who takes photographs for Parade and Time magazine. Mr. Adams, feeling slighted, wrote to Mr. Rothstein challenging him to a picture duel. ''He then wrote me the nicest letter I've ever received, saying that I had misunderstood him and that he in fact used my photographs for classes.'' The two photgraphers became close friends and years later, Mr. Rothstein brought Mr. Adams to Parade magazine.

''He has done our profession a great service, because he was very articulate and responsible and he had a mind which explored and innovated,'' said Douglas Kirkland, who worked with him at Look magazine and who is known for his glamorous photographs of famous people. ''He was a role model for myself and others.''

Mr. Rothstein was very much a family man. He and his wife, Grace (a lawyer who later switched to a teaching career), had four children - Robert, Ann, Eve and Daniel -all in their 30's. ''He was very laissez faire with us in terms of direction, but wherever he saw any creative talent in us he always encouraged it,'' said Robert, a professional musician who changed his last name to Stoner for professional reasons.

By the time he decided to start a family, Mr. Rothstein had settled down to more administrative-type positions, Mr. Stoner said. Whenever he did take on a story requiring traveling, the whole family usually went along. A Look photographic spread on an American family traveling coast to coast by car depicted the adventures of none other than the Rothstein clan.

Lining the wall along the staircase of the family's home, photographs taken semi-annually document the family's growth during the last 37 years.

For all the thousands of pictures he took and all the people he has influenced, Mr. Rothstein is still associated with his dust-storm photograph. He returned to Oklahoma in 1978 and photographed Darrel Coble - the youngest boy in the earlier picture, now a middle-aged man - and his two sons walking through fields of waist-high wheat on the family farm.

And Mr. Adams, if he had been commissioned to photograph Mr. Rothstein, would have taken him to that farm one more time. ''I would have him leaning aganst a large format camera on a tripod. I'd want him isolated in that great open space,'' Mr. Adams said.

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Arthur Rothstein

Rothstein in 1938

Born(1915-07-17)July 17, 1915
New York City
DiedNovember 11, 1985(1985-11-11) (aged 70)
NationalityAmerican
Alma materColumbia University (B.A., 1935)
Occupationphotojournalist and teacher
Known forphotography

Arthur Rothstein (July 17, 1915 – November 11, 1985) was an Americanphotographer. Rothstein is recognized as one of America’s premier photojournalists. During a career that spanned five decades, he provoked, entertained and informed the American people. His photographs ranged from a hometown baseball game to the drama of war, from struggling rural farmers to US Presidents.

Life and career[edit]

Rothstein was born in Manhattan, New York City, and he grew up in the Bronx. He was a graduate of Columbia University, where he was a founder of the University Camera Club and photography editor of The Columbian, the undergraduate yearbook. Following his graduation from Columbia during the Great Depression, Rothstein was invited to Washington DC by one of his professors at Columbia, Roy Stryker. Rothstein had been Stryker's student at Columbia University in the early 1930s.

In 1935, as a college senior, Rothstein prepared a set of copy photographs for a picture source book on American agriculture that Stryker and another professor, Rexford Tugwell were assembling. The book was never published, but before the year was out, Tugwell, who had left Columbia to be part of FDR's New Deal brain trust, hired Stryker. Stryker hired Rothstein to set up the darkroom for Stryker's Photo Unit of the Historical Section of the Resettlement Administration (RA).

Arthur Rothstein became the first photographer sent out by Roy Stryker, the head of the Photo Unit. During the next five years he shot some of the most significant photographs ever taken of rural and small-town America. He and other FSA photographers, including Esther Bubley, Marjory Collins, Marion Post Wolcott, Walker Evans, Russell Lee, Gordon Parks, Jack Delano, John Vachon, Carl Mydans, Dorothea Lange and Ben Shahn, were employed to publicize the living conditions of the rural poor in the United States. The Resettlement Administration became the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in 1937. Later, when the country geared up for World War II, the FSA became part of the Office of War Information (OWI).

The photographs made during Rothstein's five-year stint with the Photo Unit form a catalog of the agency's initiatives. One of his first assignments was to document the lives of some Virginia farmers who were being evicted to make way for the Shenandoah National Park and about to be relocated by the Resettlement Administration, and subsequent trips took him to the Dust Bowl and to cattle ranches in Montana.

The immediate incentive for his February 1937 assignment came from the interest generated by congressional consideration of farm tenant legislation sponsored in the Senate by John H. Bankhead, a moderate Democrat from Alabama with a strong interest in agriculture. Enacted in July, the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act gave the agency its new lease on life as the Farm Security Administration.

Gee's Bend[edit]

On February 18, 1937, Stryker wrote Rothstein that the journalist Beverly Smith had told him about a tenant community at Gee's Bend, Alabama, "the mostwas preparing an article on tenancy for the July issue of The American Magazine, but Stryker sensed bigger possibilities, telling Rothstein, "We could do a swell story; one that Life [magazine] will grab." Stryker planned to visit Alabama and asked Rothstein to wait for him, but he was never able to make the trip and Rothstein went to Gee's Bend alone.

The residents of Gee's Bend symbolized two different things to the Resettlement Administration. On the one hand, reports about the community prepared by the agency describe the residents as isolated and primitive, people whose speech, habits, and material culture reflected an African origin and an older way of life. On the other hand, the agency's agenda for rehabilitation implied a view of the residents as the victims of slavery and the farm-tenant system on a former plantation. The two perceptions may be seen as related: if these tenants — despite their primitive culture— could benefit from training and financial assistance, their success would demonstrate the efficacy of the programs.

Unlike the subjects of many Resettlement Administration and Farm Security Administration photographs, the people of Gee's Bend are not portrayed as victims. The photographs do not show the back-breaking work of cultivation and harvest, but only offer a glimpse of spring plowing. At home, the residents do not merely inhabit substandard housing but are engaged in a variety of domestic activities. The dwellings at Gee's Bend must have been as uncomfortable as the frame shacks thrown up for farm workers everywhere, but Rothstein's photographs emphasize the log cabins' picturesque qualities. This affirming image of life in Gee's Bend is reinforced by Rothstein's deliberate, balanced compositions which lend dignity to the people being pictured.

There does not seem to have been a Life magazine story about Gee's Bend, but a long article ran in the New York Times Magazine of August 22, 1937. It is illustrated by eleven of Rothstein's pictures, with a text that draws heavily upon a Resettlement Administration report dated in May. The story extols the agency's regional director as intelligent and sympathetic and describes the Gee's Bend project in glowing terms. Reporter John Temple Graves II perceived the project as retaining agrarian — and African — values.

  • Annie Pettway Bendolph carrying water. Gee's Bend, Alabama. April 1937. Photographed by Arthur Rothstein.

  • The former home of the Pettways. Gee's Bend, Alabama. April 1937. Photographed by Arthur Rothstein.

  • Woman on the Pettway Plantation

In 1940 Mr. Rothstein became a staff photographer for Look magazine but left shortly thereafter to join the OWI and then the US Army as a photographer in the Signal Corps. His military assignment took him to the China-Burma-India theatre and he remained in China following his discharge from the military in 1945, working as chief photographer for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, documenting the Great Famine and the plight of displaced survivors of the Holocaust in the Hongkew ghetto of Shanghai.

In 1947 Mr. Rothstein rejoined Look as Director of Photography. He remained at Look until 1971 when the magazine ceased publication. Mr. Rothstein joined Parade magazine in 1972 and remained there until his death.

He was the author of numerous magazine articles and a staff columnist for US Camera and Modern Photography magazines and the New York Times, Mr. Rothstein wrote and published nine books.

Mr. Rothstein’s photographs are in permanent collections throughout the world and have appeared in numerous exhibitions. A selection of this one-man shows include shows at the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester NY the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC; Photokina, Cologne, Germany; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Royal Photographic Society, London, England, as well as traveling exhibitions for the United States Information Service and for Parade magazine.

He was a member of the faculty of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a Spencer Chair Professor at S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University. Mr. Rothstein was also on the faculties of Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry, New York, and the Parsons School of Design in New York City and he took great pride in mentoring young photographers including Stanley Kubrick, Douglas Kirkland and Chester Higgins, Jr.

A recipient of more than 35 awards in photojournalism and a former juror for the Pulitzer Prize, Mr. Rothstein was also a founder and former officer of the American Society of Magazine Photographers (ASMP). Arthur Rothstein died on November 11, 1985 in New Rochelle, New York.

Personal life[edit]

Rothstein's parents were Isadore Rothstein and Nettie Rothstein (née Perlstein).[2] In 1947 he married Grace Goodman, and the couple went on to have four children: Robert Rothstein (Rob Stoner), Ann Segan, Eve Roth Lindsay and Daniel Rothstein.[3][4]

Gallery[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

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