Conquest of the Vertical
With a six foot pinhole camera lined with photographic paper, Shafer traveled to landscapes in four California locations where boundaries were made in the mid 1800's by American pioneers mining for gold, silver and other minerals. The photographic apparatus and process she used mirrors the process used by historical photographic figures such as Carlton Watkins. However, Watkins framed an Utopist version of the landscape, and Shafer, the converse; her images imply devastation to the land and native inhabitants caused by the mining. The images were shot and developed on-location in a U-Haul that Shafer converted into a darkroom. These 6’ x 40” negatives, produced at sites with a haunting and tragic history, have a portrait orientation, alluding to individual(s) rendered invisible through dislocation. This selection of work consists of images produced in Eureka, CA; Owens Valley, CA; Malakoff Diggins, CA; Lytle Creek, CA. Various methods were used to mine for these minerals, hydraulic excavation being both the most destructive and lucrative. High-power hoses were used to wash away hillsides, and often times mercury was used to help locate the gold and silver. Interestingly, the surplus of silver resulting from mining made the metal more affordable and accessible, enabling more experimentation and advances in photography.