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HomeContents > People > Photographers > William B. Dyer

Born: William Buckingham Dyer 
Other: W.B. Dyer 
Dates:  1860, 7 August - 1931, November
Died:  US, CA, Emerald Bay
Active:  US
Member of the Linked Ring Brotherhood.
Check Princeton University Art Museum.

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for William B. Dyer
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

Born on August 7, 1860, in Racine, Wisconsin, William Buckingham Dyer grew up there. He briefly attended Williams College (Williamstown, Massachusetts) around 1878 and was working as a railroad agent in Rock Island, Illinois, a few years later.
In 1894, Dyer moved to Winnetka, a northern Chicago suburb, and a year later acquired his first camera. He established himself as a professional photographer in 1897, specializing in portraiture and commercial illustration. He eventually took a studio in the Fine Arts Building in Chicago’s Loop, where his cousin Elizabeth Brownell also maintained a photographic work space.
Dyer’s most lasting professional work also was in book form. In 1899, over seventy-five of his images appeared in James Whitcomb Riley’s book of poems Riley Love-Lyrics. These pictures (mostly figure studies) often appeared with borders, vignetting, or other printer’s alterations, making them intimate and gem-like. Over the next six years, the book went through a number of editions. In 1900, Dyer’s other major book-illustration job was published—Winsome Womanhood: Familiar Talks on Life and Conduct by Margaret E. Sangster. While its first edition included only a few illustrations (naturally, of women), the second one was issued in 1901 in a larger format, with many more of Dyer’s pictures, including an oval one pasted onto the elaborately printed cloth cover. In addition to working professionally, Dyer was active in pictorial circles in Chicago and beyond. He joined the Chicago Society of Amateur Photographers and lectured to its members. In 1901, he served on both the organizing committee and jury for the Second Chicago Photographic Salon, which presented seven of his photographs (including one under the pseudonym, J. B. Yarwell). Two years later, he served on the jury again. In 1900, he wrote three articles for Chicago’s monthly art magazine Brush and Pencil and two for the country’s top photographic quarterly, Camera Notes. Articles profiling him appeared in the October 1899 issue of Brush and Pencil and the November 1900 issue of Photo Era.
Dyer was one of the few Americans to make gum-bichromate prints, a process that allowed significant alteration of the image during development by brush. His pictorial work consisted largely of portraiture, figure studies, and nudes. For his accomplishments, he was recognized by London’s prestigious Linked Ring Brotherhood, which elected him to membership in 1902. Likewise, Stieglitz tapped him to be a founding member of his elite Photo-Secession group, organized the same year. Dyer’s work was included in all the major Photo-Secession exhibitions, seen at the National Arts Club, New York (1902); Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh (1904); Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (1904); Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia (1906); and Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo (1910).
Dyer’s work was readily available in the photographic press and at exhibitions around the turn of the century. Stieglitz included photogravures by him in Camera Notes in July 1901 and Camera Work in April 1907, plus in the 1901 portfolio, American Pictorial Photography II. Elsewhere, his images were reproduced in the American Annual of Photography 1901, Photograms of the Year 1903, Platinum Print in 1914, and frequently during the 1897-1907 run of Brush and Pencil. Between 1899 and 1905, his work was included in exhibitions in Boston, Denver, Newark (Ohio), New York, Philadelphia, Portland (Oregon), Bradford (England), Dresden, Glasgow, London, Turin, and Vienna.
Dyer moved to Hood River, Oregon, to take up fruit farming in 1908, when the Northwest was sparsely populated. Despite losing photographic materials in a house fire a few years later, he maintained a presence among pictorialists for many years. Among the important shows to include his work were Modern Photography (Newark Public Library, 1911), An Exhibition Illustrating the Progress of the Art of Photography in America (Montross Art Galleries, New York, 1912), and An Exhibition of Pictorial Photography by American Artists (traveled during 1917). In 1920, Pictorial Photography in America, the first yearbook of the Pictorial Photographers of America, featured one of his nude images. Between 1923 and 1926, he showed at pictorial salons in Oakland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
Nineteen twenty found Dyer working in the Bushnell Photography Studio in San Francisco. He subsequently lived in Pasadena, and beginning in 1929, in Emerald Bay, just north of Laguna Beach. William B. Dyer died in November 1931, in Emerald Bay. 
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012) 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 1 June 2013. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
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William B. Dyer
William B. Dyer 
1899, October
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