Arthur Rothstein was born in New York in 1915. He attended the Angelo Patri School in the Bronx and while a student at Columbia University he developed an interest in photography. Two of his tutors, Roy Stryker and Rex Tugwell, asked him to help with the picture editing of a textbook they were working on.
The FSA employed a small group of photographers, including Esther Bubley, Marjory Collins, Mary Post Wolcott, Walker Evans, Russell Lee, Gordon Parks, Jack Delano, Charlotte Brooks, John Vachon, Carl Mydans, Dorothea Lange and Ben Shahn, to publicize the conditions of the rural poor in America.
In 1936 Rothstein was sent to document the Dust Bowl. While in Cimarron County he took a photograph that became known as Fleeing a Dust Storm. The photograph, showing a man and his two sons in a dust storm, became one of the great motifs of the 1930s and was eventually appeared in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In 1940, Arthur Rothstein joined the staff of Look Magazine as a photographer. During the Second World War he went back to the Farm Security Administration which had become part of the Office of War Information. This included taking photographs in China, Burma and India.
Rothstein was the inventor of the X-O-Graph, a three-dimensional printing process. He also taught at several schools and enjoyed mentoring young photographers throughout his long and diverse career. He also published nine books on photography including Look at Us, Let's See, Here We Are (1967), Photojournalism (1974), A Vision Shared (1976), The Depression Years (1978), Words and Pictures (1980), American West in the Thirties (1982), America in Photographs (1985) and Documentary Photography (1985).
Arthur Rothstein died in New Rochelle in 1985.