This essay explores the relationship between welfare, eugenics and documentary photography during the New Deal in order to explain how a set of government photographs taken by Arthur Rothstein in the Shenandoah became entwined in the rhetorical structure of eugenic ideology. The photographs discussed portray victims of forced sterilization before their incarceration, yet there is no evidence to show that the photographer was aware of, or complicit with, this fact. This essay responds to the questions this raises about the images: what historical and social contingencies were behind their production? What is the relationship between the photographer, the photographs, the New Deal and the subjects depicted? How did efforts to help America's poorest lead to their incarceration and sterilization? Why is the full picture impossible to see? And how do we read and understand them today?