LIFE
FORCE
The magazine of the photo-essay
July 2017 issue
The New Forty-Niners
“A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine.  Fabulous!” Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film maker
by Sarina Finkelstein
Over 150 years since the original Gold Rush, America experienced an economic downturn that became the most severe recession since The Great Depression.  2009 was the year when the entire country lost faith.  Still, there was a growing group of ordinary but determined people struggling to make it against extraordinary odds, united by their passionate and desperate search for gold to support them until the job market improved.  I began photographing the re-emergence of gold prospectors in California, their place in modern society and recent legislation that threatens their way of life.  The project draws a comparison between the original Gold Rush, the lesser-known surge of gold prospecting during the The Great Depression of the 1930s and the modern-
day wave of gold prospectors in California during what has become known as “The Great Recession.”  The New 49ers—recently laid-off workers, veterans, retirees, ex-convicts and freelancers in between gigs—are dependent on the income they derive from prospecting.  Arriving in Winnebagos and pickups, they create semi- permanent Hoovervilles and camps along the edge of the river canyon reminiscent of their predecessors in the 1930s and of those depicted in Timothy O’Sullivan’s 1860s documentation of Gold Hill, Nevada. I photographed a number of prospecting communities spread across the state.  Within them are fierce individuals living on the margin, on a search for something concrete. These modern-day pioneers have fled a global economy based largely on abstract forces in order to develop a measure of self-reliance, taking a gamble on their own ability to sustain themselves despite the hardships of extreme weather and dangerous terrain. These images show a California glimmering with hope in the face of adversity.
Adolf and Martin night prospecting by the Scott River, Klamath National Forest, California, 2010.
Avery in his digging hole by the Scott River, Klamath National Forest, California, 2009.
Bernie McGrath, unofficial “Mayor of Nugget Alley,” Angeles National Forest, California, 2009.
Olan’s buckets of concentrate, Italian Bar, Calfornia, 2012.
Chalkboard with the price of gold reached on Sept. 9, 2011, Columbia Historical Museum, Columbia, California.
Cowboy operating a dredge on a claim in the Motherlode Country, California, 2012.
Suction dredge on the Scott River in protest of SB-670, Klamath National Forest, California, 2010.
Duane at Independence, Klamath National Forest, California, 2013.
Duane and Moses at Independence, Klamath National Forest, California, 2013.
Miner using a pan and sluice at Nugget Alley (with dredges parked in the background), Angeles National Forest, California, 2009.
Lydella at Sluice Box, Klamath National Forest, California, 2013.
Martin’s cave, Angeles National Forest, California, 2012.
The Nugget Man’s nugget from Feather River, California, 2010.
Rich and Liz digging at Italian Bar, California, 2009.
Rick’s second camp at Brown’s Gulch, Angeles National Forest, California, 2010.
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