Unidentified Photographer, Portrait of an Unidentified Pair of Prospectors, c. 1860. Canadian Photography Institute. NGC, Ottawa

Gold and Silver: Images and Illusions of the Gold Rush

Through captivating and largely unedited images ranging from scenes of California’s rivers to the snow-capped peaks of Yukon, this exhibition follows the hopes, dreams and illusions of an entire generation of prospectors who took to the road in search of gold. It also tells the story of two major developments in the history of photography: single images on metal and multiple images on glass and paper.

Gold and Silver is organized by the Canadian Photography Institute in partnership with Library and Archives Canada. This exhibition was made possible thanks to the gift of "The Origins of Photography" from the Archive of Modern Conflict.


Friday, November 3, 2017 Monday, April 2, 2018


National Gallery of Canada Canadian Photography Institute Galleries
380 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ON K1N 9N4

Installation Views

Featured Video

In the 19th century, many people dreamt of finding gold and silver during the Gold Rush. Moreover, these two metals were essential in the composition of early photographs. Learn more in this video.

Exhibition: Gold and Silver


22 x 33.5 cm, Soft Cover, 128 pages, 106 photographs, ISBN 979-10-90306-67-7

Gold and Silver by Luce Lebart offers a contemporary insight into an exclusive archive of the California Gold Rush held by the Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada, and donated by the Archive of Modern Conflict. Young nineteenth-century argonauts look at the camera, defying all the conventions of portraiture. Everything in these pictures – their attitudes, their stares, their clothes – deviates from the usual representations associated with daguerreotype photography. These portraits are accompanied by a series of landscape photographs, also printed on metal. Together, they reveal a pioneering iconography of the American landscape that stresses the human use of the land. The photographers manipulated their images after they were printed, adding gold dust onto streams or gold nuggets onto the sieves of the pioneers. The book design highlights the relations between gold from the Great West and silver – two kinds of metallic salts used in photography.

Gold and Silver by Luce Lebart is co-published by RVB BOOKS and the Canadian Photography Institute.