Saturday, 18 April 2009

Is it real ? // Arthur Rothstein

In 1936 the American photographer Arthur Rothstein photographed a steer's skull lying on a cracked and waterless earth. It is taken during the depression in the 1930's where Rothstein was hired by FSA (Farm Security Administration) to photograph the state of the rural America. The photo is a famous symbol of the crisis in the agriculture at that time.

'The bleached skull of a steer on the dry sun-baked earth of the South Dakota Badlands'
Arthur Rothstein ©

But Rothstein took two photos of this skull and the other photo show the skull lying on a strecht of grass, a much less symbolially powerful place. Rothstein admitted to having moved the skull a few metres to obtain the more dramatic effect with the cracked, dry earth.

Opponents in the press and Congress seized on this to attack the agency's credibility, calling the picture a fake.

The interfearance of the photographer makes up the question of wether this is documentary photography or not. Rothstein wanted to give his picture a more debt when moving the object to a background that would have more affect on the viewer. By doing so, is he taking away the documentary aspect of his photo ?

His picture turns into his own opinion, even though all photos have a certain amount of the photographers opinion, and he choses how we should interpret the photo.

1 comment:

  1. Albus Dumbledore24 April 2009 at 11:12

    I feel slightly cheated to learn that this photo was partly a set-up. But I do accept that Rothstein's message was of primary importance to the photo, and the effect created by moving the skull slightly is, in my view, worth the potential controversy generated. As I have been given an understanding of the exact practicalities of the photo, I find it acceptable; however, I can understand how it may be seen as unacceptable to those who didn't know from the start that it is partly contrived.