Oregon or Bust

February 27, 2013 - March1, 2014 | Past Exhibit

Oregon Or Bust
Two Photographs by Arthur Rothstein

Photojournalist Arthur Rothstein’s images of America’s rural poor are recognized for their symmetry, neatness, and narrative inclinations. Born in 1915, Rothstein grew up in the Bronx. He attended Columbia University as a pre-med student before being recruited to set up a darkroom in Washington DC and to work on the Photo Unit of the Historical Section of the Resettlement Administration, (RA) which later became the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in 1937. On one of his first assignments, Rothstein travelled across the country with a portable Leica camera to photograph the Dust Bowl and agrarian poverty. His post-Depression era images of Gee’s Bend, an African-American community in Alabama, appeared in a spread in the New York Times Magazine in 1937.

In 1940 Rothstein joined Look magazine as a staff photographer.  He later became the director of photography until the magazine's demise in 1971.The following year he joined Parade magazine, serving in various capacities until his death in 1985.

Oregon or Bust Images

The biography of the subjects, Vernon “Vern” Evans, and his wife, brother and their children, have received considerable attention as a result of Rothstein’s photos. Vernon Evans was raised on a homestead in Lemmon, South Dakota. Work was sparse in South Dakota, and Evans was said to have remarked of his decision to head west: “It got so bad you couldn’t even buy a job.” In 1936, the family departed in a Model-T Ford to seek work in the Yakima, Washington hop harvest. 

Rothstein took eight photographs of the Evans family after waving their Model-T down on the road outside of Missoula, Montana.  He wanted to capture their eye-catching, aspirational “Oregon or Bust” slogan. To the Evans’ surprise, the photograph appeared in national periodicals and papers the following year.