Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library Acquires Arthur Rothstein Photographic Collection

Rothstein Arthur Rothstein. Farmer and sons walking in the face of a dust storm. Cimarron County, Oklahoma (1936). Arthur Rothstein Photograph Collection, Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library.

Arthur Rothstein (1915-1985), one of the most prolific and influential photographers of the 20th century, produced a broad scope of work that captured American life from the Great Depression through the Reagan years, as well as international events from post-War famine in China to May Day in Moscow’s Red Square at the height of the Cold War. From Welsh coal miners to the Reichstag in ruins, to the unique documentation of the Jewish refugee population in Shanghai after World War II, it was said of Arthur Rothstein that he went everywhere, saw everything and brought his camera.

"Because powerful images are fixed in the mind more readily than words, the photographer needs no interpreter. A photograph means the same thing all over the world and no translator is required. Photography is truly a universal language, transcending all boundaries of race, politics and nationality." -- Arthur Rothstein

The collection includes materials spanning Rothstein's entire career as a photographer for the Farm Security Administration, 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. Among the works in the collection are Rothstein’s iconic Dust Storm Cimarron County and Gee’s Bend – both of which are widely recognized defining images of the American landscape and experience. 

“The Arthur Rothstein Photograph Collection is stunning in its power, scope, technical prowess and beauty. We are thrilled to receive this important body of materials and we look forward to intensive study of this archive by the research community.” said Carole Ann Fabian, Director, Avery Library. “We are particularly indebted to Dan Rothstein, one of our Columbia alumni, and his wife Lori for their many years of work in helping to facilitate this donation.”  

One of Arthur’s four children, Dan says, “My mother, Grace Rothstein, and our entire family, is dedicated to seeing my father’s legacy of photojournalistic insight and integrity preserved as an example for future generations. Establishing a home for this collection at Columbia, where he studied and taught for many years, is a satisfying realization of that goal.”

rothstein2 Columbia University Camera Club, George Washington Bridge (1933). Arthur Rothstein Photograph Collection, Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library.

Arthur Rothstein was a graduate of Columbia College; as a chemistry major he developed an interest in photography from the technical side, working with film development techniques and eventually becoming a founding member of the camera club at Columbia. Upon graduation he was offered a job by Columbia economist Roy Stryker, who had been asked by colleagues in the Roosevelt administration to form a group of documentary photographers to work within what eventually became known as the Farm Security Administration. In addition to Arthur Rothstein, the FSA photographers included Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, Russell Lee, Carl Mydans, John Vachon and Marion Post Walcott, among others. 

Throughout his life Arthur Rothstein sought to combine his prodigious technical and compositional skills in the service of compelling visual communication. He frequently referred to a quote from one of his influences, the photographer Lewis Hine, that the purpose of a photograph is “to show what needs to be appreciated and to show what needs to be changed.” The Arthur Rothstein Photograph Collection is evidence of his abundant success in advancing that ideal.

Avery Library will host “Celebrating the Arthur Rothstein Photograph Collection at Avery” on October 28, 6:30-8:00 pm. The event will include a lecture by Noam Elcott, Assistant Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art and Media in Columbia’s Department of Art History and Archaeology; reception following in the Avery Library Wallach wing where exhibit of a selection of works from the Rothstein collection is on display.  RSVP to attend: Avery-Friends@libraries.cul.columbia.edu

About the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library
The Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library is one of the most comprehensive collections relating to architecture and the fine arts in the world. Avery collects a full range of primary and secondary sources for the advanced study of architecture, historic preservation, art history, decorative arts, city planning, real estate, and archaeology. The Library contains more than 600,000 volumes, including 40,000 rare books, and approximately 2,300 serials. Avery’s Drawings and Archives collection includes more than two million architectural drawings and records. For more information, please visit the Avery Library website

Columbia University Libraries is one of the top five academic research library systems in North America. The collections include over 13 million volumes, over 160,000 journals and serials, as well as extensive electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, maps, and graphic and audio-visual materials. The Libraries employs more than 400 professional and support staff and hosts over 4.7 million visitors each year.  The website of the Libraries is the gateway to its services and resources: library.columbia.edu.