Cattle skull, Badlands, South Dakota

Accession Number

Cattle skull, Badlands, South Dakota

Arthur Rothstein

Artist Nationality
American (North American)

Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
gelatin silver print on paper

14 in x 14 1/4 in (35.56 cm x 36.2 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Thomas Wilson '79 and Jill Garling '80

Subject matter
This photograph represents an overhead view of a steer's skull amid a dry and cracked landscape. During the Great Depression (1929-1941), the United States' Farm Security Administration hired photographers to document the effects of the Dust Bowl, which devastated much of the central Great Plains. This photograph became one of the most iconic images produced by the FSA; however, it raised controversy when it was discovered that Rothstein adjusted the position of the skull and experimented with the lighting. Critics of Roosevelt's administation accused Rothstein of doctoring his images in order to manipulate public opinion in support of the New Deal. Additionally, this image was produced several months before the drought began and in an already arid region of the country. Nevertheless, the photograph became a potent symbol of the Dust Bowl and the destruction that it caused. 

Physical Description
A cow skull on parched and cracked ground.

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type
black and white print

Collection Area

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cows (mammals)
skulls (skeleton components)

7 Related Resources

Environmental Justice
(Part of 5 Learning Collections)
Food Cultures
(Part of 4 Learning Collections)
Objects from Aftermath: Landscapes of Devastation
(Part of: <b>Aftermath: Landscapes of Devastation</b>)

& Author Notes

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