Temporary and Permanent Bridge, Green River, Citadel Rock in Distance , 1869. Mediadrumimages / Andrew J Russell / OMCA

By Mark McConville


STUNNING PICTURES revealing the Transcontinental Railroad’s central role in expansion into the Wild West of America during the 1800s will be showcased in a new exhibition.

The incredible images show a Mormon family at the Great Salt Lake Valley, East and West shaking hands at the laying of the last rail in 1869 and Shoshone Indians posing for the camera.

Shoshone Indians] , 1869. Mediadrumimages / Andrew J Russell / OMCA

Other striking shots show OC Smith, a cashier for the Union Pacific Railroad, and his wife in Echo, a lone man sitting under Hanging Rock and temporary and permanent bridges being built over Green River with Citadel Rock in the distance.

This spring, the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) will present Pushing West: The Photography of Andrew J. Russell, a new exhibition in OMCA’s Gallery of California Art showcasing Russell’s epic photography of the Transcontinental Railroad and its central role in western expansion.

Coinciding with the 150th anniversary of the Railroad’s completion in May 1869, Russell’s photography reveals the tensions between the celebration of economic and technological advancements and the Railroad’s significant impact on western lands and Native peoples.

Mormon Family, Great Salt Lake Valley from The Great West Illustrated in a
Series of Photographic Views Across the Continent, 1869. Mediadrumimages / Andrew J Russell / OMCA

Though commissioned by the Union Pacific Railroad to document the railroad and its successful development, Russell often captured a complex picture of western expansion: his photographs documented majestic landscapes and the natural environment, the displacement of Native peoples, and technological history (both engineering and photographic). In a feat of technical achievement, Russell’s remarkable usage of the collodion photographic process enabled him to capture images of visual and emotional impact in remote locations.

“Andrew J. Russell remains one of the most influential landscape photographers who brought the American West to a mass audience in the 19th century, and whose work continues to shape our perceptions of this important period,” said Drew Johnson, Curator of Photography and Visual Culture.

East and West Shaking Hands at Laying Last Rail , 1869. Mediadrumimages / Andrew J Russell / OMCA

“Drawn from one of OMCA’s core collections of nearly 650 original collodion negatives and 60 vintage prints, the exhibition will include Russell’s iconic images alongside rare vintage prints and modern prints from original collodion negatives to tell a multi-faceted story of this pivotal moment in history.”

Pushing West: The Photography of Andrew J. Russell will be on view in OMCA’s Gallery of California Art May 4 through September 1, 2019.

Pushing West: The Photography of Andrew J. Russell is supported in part by the Oakland Museum Women’s Board, the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, and The Candelaria Fund.