Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Steer Skull, Badlands, South Dakota

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bleached-skull-steer

In 1936, twenty-two-year-old Arthur Rothstein was working for the Resettlement Administration in South Dakota to document drought conditions there. His most famous (and controvesial) photo, above, was released to the media in August, 1936, coinciding with a trip by President Roosevelt to the Great Plains.

It instantly generated enormous controversy. Many Republican papers, led by the Fargo Forum, argued that the photo amounted to government propaganda designed to create the appearance of drought conditions for political purposes. In reality, the Fargo Forum insisted, there had been no drought. The photo simply showed, it explained, an alkali flat, similar to ones that could be found in “Maryland, Pennsylvania, Indiana. Wherever one chooses.” The paper also called the skull “a movable prop, which comes in handy for photographers who want to touch up their pictures with a bit of the grisly.”

Subsequent investigation (such as the other photos below) revealed that Rothstein indeed moved the skull around. Although the critics accused that Rothstein had traveled the country with the steer’s skull in his suitcase, Rothstein insisted he had moved the skull no more than ten feet from where he had originally found it. Rothstein went on to create several memorable photographic documents including the classic Dust Bowl photograph of a father walking through a storm with his two young sons and received more than 50 photography awards, but the skull controversy hung over Rothstein for the remainder of his career, with the critics mockingly referred to the cow’s head as the “perambulating skull.”

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 22, 2009 at 7:38 am

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  1. […] Dakota del Sur Badlands, 1936: Foto de Arthur Rothstein. Pie de foto tomado de la página web de la Biblioteca del Congreso, junio de 2015: “El cráneo blanqueado de un novillo en la tierra seca bañada por el sol de los Badlands de Dakota del Sur.” Información básica sobre esta foto: Arthur Rothstein, fotógrafo que trabajaba para la Farm Security Administration, movió y fotografío un cráneo de novillo en varios lugares en Dakota del Sur durante una grave sequía en la región. Existen varias fotografías de este en el que se muestran diferentes entornos. Después de que una de las fotos se distribuyera por la Associated Press, los opositores republicanos del presidente Roosevelt aprovecharon la oportunidad y escribieron artículos acerca de la puesta en escena de esta foto que fueron publicados en periódicos conservadores de todo el país. El cineasta y escritor Errol Morris escribió en The New York Times: “En la fotografía de Arthur Rothstein de un cráneo de vaca blanqueado por el sol, los opositores a Roosevelt habían encontrado su prueba de la basura del gobierno, la duplicidad y el fraude”. En una entrevista con Rothstein en 1964, afirma que él estaba usando el cráneo para realizar “ejercicios de fotografía,” experimentando con “la textura del cráneo, la textura de la tierra, las grietas en el suelo, la iluminación” y “cómo la iluminación cambió desde el este al oeste cuando se puso el sol “. Afirma que “no se había tomado la foto, en primer lugar como un ejemplo de propaganda del New Deal ” y que “no se había tomado la foto con la idea de que fuera utilizada como un símbolo de la sequía”. Los enlaces a artículos sobre esta controversia: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/18/the-case-of-the-inappropriate-alarm-clock-part-1/htt… […]


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