In the mid-1800s, the United States was transforming from a rural, agrarian culture mostly clustered on the East Coast to an industrialized one. Along with this, Americans increasingly looked west to their future, traversing the Appalachia into the Midwest and beyond, dramatically altering the landscape in their wake. With them came the new medium of photography, not just to record these changes but also to preserve images of the natural beauty that was being plundered.

An exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, showcases these images beginning shortly after news of the Frenchman Jacques-Louis-Mandé Daguerre’s invention reached cities in the East in late 1839. Continuing into history, the exhibition features photographs and paintings from the late 1850s and early 1860s. The exhibition is on display in the West Building until July 16.

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