Now, it's just a matter of promoting the hell out of it in order to get some funding to keep it going next year:
Over 150 years since the original Gold Rush, the country is in the midst of the most severe recession since The Great Depression. A new wave of prospectors has rushed to California, desperate to find gold to sustain them until the job market improves. “The New ‘49ers” documents the re-emergence of in California, the recent legal debate threatening their way of life and examines California’s identity as “The Golden State.”
Shot with a medium-format camera, this body of work focuses on five California gold prospecting communities, heroicizing the prospectors in portraits against sublime backdrops of the American West. The miners here—recent layoffs, veterans, retirees, ex-convicts and freelancers in between gigs—are dependent on the income from their claims to feed their families. Selling an ounce of gold at $1100+/oz. provides them with hope for survival.
"The New ‘49ers" arrive in Winnebagos and pickups, having sold their homes and farms for subsistence. They create the same semi-permanent Hoovervilles along the edge of the river canyon as their predecessors. They use traditional methods of panning and sluicing but also utilize modern suction dredging technology.
SB 670, passed August 6, 2009, bans suction dredging—the most productive method for prospecting gold—pending an already-delayed review of its environmental impact. This law has decimated the community, forcing miners to seek alternate forms of economic relief, shuttering mining supply stores and reducing peripheral support to tourist businesses in The Golden State—drastically impacting the state’s economy and interstate commerce.
The major thing I realized on this trip out was how much work I still have to do – tangents to the project I want to photograph, places where and people with whom I want to spend more time.
I might be overly self-critical of the work at this stage, but I still feel like it needs connecting photographs to pull all the disparate parts together. And, of course, I really need to make more trips out during the warmer months when there are more people consistently working.
But, having work to do, having an idea to shoot, is a good thing. Just need to power my way through it.
All photos (c) Sarina Finkelstein.