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Exhibition offers a contemporary insight into the Gold Rush that captured the U.S. in the mid-19th century
Portrait of Daniel J. Butler with Gold and Mining Tools, c. 1850. Daguerreotype with applied colour. © National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Gift of Archive of Modern Conflict.

AMSTERDAM.- Gold & Silver offers a contemporary insight into the Gold Rush that captured the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. Two great myths or crazy dreams became reality: filling your pockets with the most precious metal and fixing your image in metal. At the time gold and silver were used in the photographic process. The Foam exhibition Gold and Silver emphasizes this relationship between the gold rush and the early photography.

Halfway through the nineteenth century, many adventurers dreamt of a better life in luxury. Thousands of hopeful men left their families and homes behind to seek for gold. In vivid images ranging from the rivers of California to the snowy peaks of the Yukon, Gold and Silver recounts the hopes, dreams, and illusions of the pioneers of the gold rush who flooded into the north and west of North America in the years after 1848 and again in the late 1890s. Their adventures during the Gold Rush and the rise of photography were intimately entwined with each other. Initially this connection manifested itself in the daguerreotype, this was the first successful photographic process, using a silvered copper plate.

Silver salts blacken quickly in light, which makes them ideal for use in photography. But this advantage is also a disadvantage. The resulting images are sensitive to light and fade over time, especially if exposed to high humidity. Without gold, more specifically gold toning, photographs of the past would not have survived.

The period between the gold rush that began in San Francisco in 1848 and the gold rush that created Dawson City in Yukon at the end of the nineteenth century coincides with the transition from the daguerreotype, a single image on metal, to the reproducible image on paper. In the fifty years after 1848, silver-based iconography was transformed from retouched portraits that cultivated the image of the bandit, through views of landscapes featuring men at work, to depictions of challenging voyages and crossings, by raft, canoe, or on foot in Yukon. Like the bold pioneers who left for the West, the daguerreotypists were adventurers – adventurers of the eye.

The exhibition at Foam contains 27 unique daguerreotypes and 37 albumen photographs originating from the collection of the National Gallery of Canada. Both techniques were used in the nineteenth century. None of these photos were made for artistic reasons, yet this pioneering photography was imbued with great aesthetic power. The images show what these gold seekers looked like. They are shown in combination with the landscape in which the search for gold took place.

This exhibition is a collaboration between the Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada and Foam, in partnership with Library and Archives Canada.

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