Okies in Farm Security Administration (FSA) emergency migratory labor camp, Calipatria, Imperial Valley, February 1939. This image was taken by Dorothea Lange, a colleague of Arthur Rothstein whose images are included in the current exhibit at Roosevelt House.

I’m sorry about the lack of posts recently. I have spent much of the past several weeks finishing the draft of a project that proved more difficult and time-involved that I had imagined. I submitted the draft the other day. We’ll see if comes to pass toward the end of the year. People were asking me at work yesterday what I intended to do over the three-day weekend; when they did I answered with a negative: “not writing and editing.”

Last night I went to Roosevelt House on East 65th Street for the opening of the exhibit “A Lens on FDR’s New Deal: Photographs by Arthur Rothstein, 1935-1945.” Rothstein was one of the great visual chroniclers of Depression Era America. It is not going too far to say that he, his friend and colleague Dorothea Lange, and others shaped our awareness and memory and of what the country was enduring in the 1930s and early 1940s. Part of the reason the Roosevelt Administration created the initiative to photograph the severity of the economic crisis to begin with was to press the need for its New Deal programs.

Rothstein was the son of refugees from Eastern Europe. Like so many immigrants and first-generation Americans, he was eager to make his contribution. Born in 1915, Rothstein attended Columbia University at fifteen and in the mid-1930s, just a young man in his early 20s, found himself driving across the country on dirt roads, sleeping in his car, eating off a hot plate, and shooting 80,000 images in migrant camps, farming communities, and elsewhere.

Rothstein’s daughter, Dr. Annie Segan, put the exhibition together in with her husband and the Roosevelt House historian. With over 125 photographs it is the biggest exhibit of Rothstein images to go on display in more than a quarter century. Other photographers are included as well. Many of the images were taken from tiny negatives. Rothstein’s daughter in her talk called them “picture stories.” Incredibly the trove of 175,000 images taken by Rothstein and the nearly twenty other photographers working for the Resettlement Administration (RA) and Farm Security Administration (FSA) were nearly discarded by indifferent bureaucrats in the years after the Second World War. Thankfully they were saved and are available to the public at the Library of Congress and online.

The exhibit runs into January 2020.

(image/Library of Congress)