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Extraordinary early photographs of California's Gold Rush created using silver-plated copper sheets reveal river miners at work in the 1850s and stunning portraits of prospectors with their tools

Extraordinary early photographs of California's Gold Rush created using silver-plated copper sheets reveal river miners at work in the 1850s and stunning portraits of prospectors with their tools
The earliest form of photography provides an extraordinary glimpse into the Gold Rush, showcasing how the period helped shape the American West.
Called daguerreotypes, these early photographs were created by exposing silver-plated copper sheets to mercury vapor. Some of the images were developed in studios near Sacramento and San Francisco before daguerreotypists started taking pictures outside, capturing the miners at work.
The images started out as a way of sending pictures home to loved ones after the first sighting of gold at Sutter Mill in 1848 but ended up revealing so much more, according to the curator of a new exhibition.
Miners are seen in daguerreotypes with their basic tools
George W. Northrup, a soldier and gold miner, sits with his mining tools and a bag of gold in Minnesota.
Miners are seen in daguerreotypes (one of the earliest forms of photography created on silver-plated copper) with their basic tools. Some of the portraits were developed in studios near Sacramento and San Francisco before daguerreotypists started taking pictures outside, capturing the miners at work. Miner George W. Northrup, a soldier and gold miner, sits with a bag of gold in Minnesota (right). The name of thew miner on the left is unknown
The curator of a new exhibition about the gold rush states the extraordinary images 'were documenting essentially new territory: both the physical landscape and the region's unprecedented mix of races and nationalities were unfamiliar'. Pictured is a daguerreotype, circa 1850s, on display as part of a past exhibition called the California Gold Rush
The curator of a new exhibition about the gold rush states the extraordinary images 'were documenting essentially new territory: both the physical landscape and the region's unprecedented mix of races and nationalities were unfamiliar'. Pictured is a daguerreotype, circa 1850s, on display as part of a past exhibition called the California Gold Rush
Golden Prospects exhibition at Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas looks at the Gold Rush through the eyes of the earliest photographers - daguerreotypists. Pictured is a portrait of a miner circa 1852
Bond & Mollyneaux groceries and provisions circa 1851
The new Golden Prospects exhibition at Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas, Missouri opened September 6 and looks at the gold rush through the eyes of the earliest photographers. Left, is a portrait of a miner circa 1852. Right, Bond & Mollyneaux groceries and provisions in a picture taken circa 1851
'The California gold rush exposed many complicated issues that have continued relevance today, including immigration policy, water rights, and environmentally devastating mining practices,' said Jane Aspinwall, curator of Golden Prospects: California Gold Rush Daguerreotypes at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas. 

'California daguerreotypists were documenting essentially new territory: both the physical landscape and the region's unprecedented mix of races and nationalities were unfamiliar.'
The exhibition that opened September 6 features 90 daguerreotypes. 
As well as the images created via the process invented by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre in 1839, the exhibition also features ambrotypes (created using a similar process). 
A portrait by James M. Ford
A portrait by George H. Johnson
A portrait of a miner taken by George H. Johnson is pictured right and one taken by James M. Ford is seen left. Both were captured circa 1855. The portraits were originally created as mementos for the miner's loved ones to send home. Neither man's identity in the photos are known, though they are believed to be prospectors 

One image from an unknown creator, gifted from the Hall Family Foundation, is believed to show people outside the Bond & Mollyneaux groceries and provisions in 1851.
Another image shows 'gold miners with sluice' in a shot captured in 1852.
The images are small with the largest measuring just 6 ½ x 8 ½ inches.  
'The California Gold Rush was the first broadly significant event in American history to be documented in depth by photography,' said Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO & Director of the Nelson-Atkins. 
'This revealing exhibition utilizes the Nelson-Atkins deep collection of American daguerreotypes, providing an insightful look at this historic event through the eyes of the earliest photographers.'
Golden Prospects: California Gold Rush Daguerreotypes at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and free and runs until January 26, 2020.

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