Arthur Rothstein, one of the most important and influential photojournalists in American history, will be featured this coming week at Key West Art & Historical Society’s Custom House Museum, with more than 40 pieces of the photographer’s work to be exhibited.
The show will feature a selection of iconic black-and-white images taken during Rothstein’s assignment with the Farm Security Administration—a program established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of his New Deal to help struggling farmers—where he was “instructed to visit Key West to capture on film some of the out-of-work residents affected by the Depression,” says Cori Convertito, KWAHS Curator of Exhibitions & Collections.
“Working with the Arthur Rothstein Archive, we jointly selected the images that will be exhibited in the Bryan Gallery in the Custom House Museum,” says Convertito. “They represent a broad spectrum of people and places that are truly ‘Key West’.”
“The 1930s was an era without television news,” says Convertito. “Roy Stryker, Rothstein’s boss at the FSA, thought that photographs—distributed widely in newspapers and magazines—would provide a window into the plight of displaced agricultural and industrial workers, thereby demonstrating the need for government assistance and documenting successful programs. Rothstein carried out an incredible amount of research before visiting any location. I think this gave him a distinct advantage over other photojournalists. He could empathize with people’s situations across the country.”
In January of 1938, the 22-year-old arrived in Key West, a city slowly beginning its recovery from the devastating effects of the Great Depression. Rothstein’s photographs of spongers, cigar-makers, barbers, fishermen, residents and architecture vividly demonstrated to the world both the frailty and resilience of the Florida Keys communities.
A recipient of more than 35 photojournalism awards during his 50-year career, Rothstein’s photographs have appeared in numerous exhibitions and are in permanent collections of museums throughout the world, including the U.S. Library of Congress—providing “an indelible visual record of life in the United States, particularly during some of the dark years of the Great Depression,” says Convertito.
After his assignment with the FSA, Rothstein went on to become staff photographer for Look magazine, chief photographer in China for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, staff photographer at Parade magazine, staff columnist for The New York Times, faculty member at several different universities and the author of 9 published books on photography and photojournalism.
Two special events in connection to the exhibit are highlighted: On Thursday, July 16, Rothstein’s daughter, Anne Rothstein-Segan, will appear as the first in the Summer season of KWAHS Distinguished Speakers. From 6pm-7pm, Rothstein-Segan will discuss her father and the stories behind the photographs he made during his distinguished 50-year career. The following evening, Friday, July 17, 5:30pm-8pm, is the Rothstein exhibit opening reception, which also celebrates the centenary of his birth.
The exhibit, which runs until November 10, 2015, will also include several objects from the Key West Art & Historical Society permanent collection to augment the two-dimensional images, such as cigar-making equipment, sponging tools, fishing equipment and Depression-era ephemera. Through these items, museum visitors can be transported to a slower island, a place Rothstein noted in a letter to his boss as having “many interesting things that have never been touched here.”
“Key West and its people are very interesting,” he went on to say in the letter. “The place will probably undergo a great change during the next few years after the new Overseas Highway opens next spring. I hope the resulting boom and development doesn’t spoil the picturesque beauty of the island nor make the natives lose their friendliness.”
Sponsored in part by Judith and Stanley Zabar, Maxine Makover and Jack Paul, and the Arthur Rothstein Archive, the exhibit opens to the general public at 6:00pm, with a suggested donation of $10 for non-members, while KWAHS members enjoy VIP access from 5:30-6:00pm. Anne Rothstein-Segan will be on hand, talking with the evening’s guests. For more information call Cori Convertito at 295.6616 x 112 or visit WWW.KWAHS.ORG. Your Museums. Your Community. It Takes an Island.