'Golden Dream' manages to capture history in photos

February 1, 1998
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@ dcn.davis.ca.us

Although the California Gold Rush took place 150 years ago, it is still being mined for nuggets of historical information in text and photos as this new book, "The Golden Dream," demonstrates.

Kerry Drager of Orangevale took 104 photos for "The Golden Dream," while historian Charles Fracchia of San Francisco supplied the text (Graphic Arts, 1997, $32.50). The photos are the book's selling point.

Drager grew up in Vacaville, graduating from Vacaville High School in 1971. He was the sports editor at the Fairfield Daily Republic from 1973-1974, a time when he was a photo hobbyist, not a professional.

(The national story he recalls best from that era was the Hank Aaron home run that broke Babe Ruth's record. "I always was a baseball fan," he said.)

Drager continues to be a man of myriad interests.

"I've always been interested in writing, reporting, the outdoors and photography," he said. "I also have an interest in history. And with this project, 'The Golden Dream,' it all seemed to come together."

Drager's photographs reflect a variety of colors, compositions and geographic areas throughout California. His modern photographs illuminate three historic events that occurred in 1848, 1849 and 1850, respectively. They were: the discovery of gold, the Gold Rush proper, and statehood.

It took Drager 1 1/2 years to shoot the photos in the book.

"I had no more than a half-dozen on file when I began the project," he said. "I had to go out with a fresh eye to places of interest and most of the time it was a lot of fun."

When wasn't it fun?

"It's not fun when you get up really early and drive to Monterey (from Orangevale) with the expectation of seeing a great sunrise -- and it's fogged in," he said.

"But the payoff is -- I spent the day shooting other stuff and that evening I got a shot of a great sunset," he added.

One of Drager's favorite photos is a shot of an old wooden ship at the Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco.

"I wanted to take the shot in the winter at sunset," he said. As Drager took his last photos, a lingering tourist stood at the ship's railing, staring into the city. It added just the right touch.

"But he wasn't looking at me," Drager said. The tourist was looking behind Drager to action taking place on the pier where a TV crew was filming a movie.

Drager also found historical sites that speak to the variety of people who settled the state --- Native Americans, the first miners, who were later displaced; African-Americans, several of whom came to California as servants for their Southern masters; and Mexicans, the first land-owners.

"And every Gold Rush mining town had its own Chinese section," said Drager.

When you take a look at "The Golden Dream," you may notice that the famous Southern California ghost town of Bodie is not included. That's where collaboration with a historian paid off, said Drager.

"Bodie was an active site later," he said. "Not in 1849, not during the Gold Rush."

Drager also teaches a class, "Writing for Publication," at Sacramento City College.

"I make a living now as a photographer and a writer," he said. "I never create a sunset or sunrise on a computer or in the darkroom. For one thing, it doesn't look realistic. What I'm really doing is photojournalism."

His first book of photographs, published in 1993, was "California Deserts." You can bet there will be more books coming, too.

"California is just such a wonderfully diverse state with the coast, mountains, deserts and cities," he says. Watch for more Drager books of photography.

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