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HomeContents > People > Photographers > William Dassonville

Born: William Edward Dassonville 
Other: W.E. Dassonville 
Other: William E. Dassonville 
Dates:  1879, 20 June - 1957, 15 July
Born:  US, CA, Sacramento
Died:  US, CA, San Francisco
Active:  US
American West Coast pictorialist photographer. Although he took portraits early in his career, he is now known for his photographs of the California landscape, especially of San Francisco‘s waterfront and bay and Yosemite.

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for William Dassonville
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

Dassonville began as a naturalistic photographer, making sensitive landscapes. Morphing into a pictorialist, he was active in California for the first half of the twentieth century. He also owned a company that manufactured fine photographic paper for discerning amateurs and professionals.
William Edward Dassonville was born on June 20, 1879, in Sacramento, California, and a few years later moved with his family to San Francisco. In the 1890s, he worked in a photographic studio and opened his own with Oscar Maurer in 1900. That same year, Dassonville exhibited platinum prints at the Alameda (California) Camera Club and wrote an article on the process for the May issue of Camera Craft. He then exhibited his photographs in the first three San Francisco photographic salons, of 1901, 1902, and 1903. At this time, he also served as secretary for the sponsoring California Camera Club; years later he was a juror for its fifth salon. His work appeared both in the First American Photographic Salon, which traveled around the country in 1904-1905, and in the next year’s salon. In 1915, he received an honorable mention for his work in the photography section of San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
Dassonville favored a handful of pictorial subjects. He made creative portraits of known people, such as John Muir, and he pictured boats, whether small fishing vessels or large ocean liners, in soft focus. Additionally, he photographed the California landscape as an idyllic, sun-kissed refuge.
Dassonville’s creative work was the subject of one-person exhibitions throughout his career. His own California Camera Club so honored him three times between 1904 and 1935. In 1925, he had a solo show at the Dallas Camera Club that also traveled to Newark, New Jersey. Retrospectives of his photographs followed in 1935 at the Smithsonian Institution and in 1948 at San Francisco’s Bohemian Club. Outside of this country, his work was part of group shows in China (1904), England (1922, 1925, and 1926), Canada (1924), and Scotland (1925).
Dassonville initially made his living as a professional photographer. He specialized in portraiture in San Francisco until 1906, when the earthquake and fire destroyed his studio. He left the city for a time to photograph the Sierra Nevada mountains but eventually returned and reestablished himself. By the mid-1920s, he was an acknowledged authority among California photographers; the text of four of his talks to the state’s professional association was printed in 1924 issues of Camera Craft, the West Coast’s major photographic monthly.
By this time, Dassonville was also busy manufacturing high-quality photographic paper. After experimenting part time with new papers for about five years, he went into full-time production in 1924, closing his portrait studio for good. The Dassonville Company’s famous "Charcoal Black," a specially coated bromide paper, was widely favored by pictorialists for its rich blacks, matte surface, and parchment-like base. In 1944, Dassonville moved himself and his company from San Francisco to Rochester, New York. Magazine ads of a few years later listed the company’s home address as Newton, New Jersey.
Late in life Dassonville found work as a medical photographer at Stanford University’s hospital in San Francisco. He died in that city of a cerebral hemorrhage, on July 15, 1957. 
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.
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.

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William Dassonville
American, 1879-1957

William Dassonville was born in 1879 in Sacramento, CA. Dassonville received his first camera when he was still a boy and he used it frequently. Sometime around 1900 he joined the California Camera Club which at the time was a very active organization in the artistic community; holding lectures, trips and exhibitions. Camera Craft was the official magazine of the club and Dassonville wrote his first article for the May 1900 issue entitled "Platinotype Printing". At the end of that same year Dassonville and Oscar Maurer decided to go into business and together they opened a portrait studio. Although this must have kept him busy, he still found time to create his artwork. He was involved in a number of exhibitions, including the American Photographic Salon in New York which traveled to numerous major cities throughout the US., and he was a resourceful member of the arts and crafts movement in California.
In 1906 the San Francisco earthquake destroyed Dassonville's studio, but fortunately some of his work survived. He continued to do portrait work and other various assignments to earn a living while still creating his artwork, mainly platinum prints of landscapes in the pictorialist tradition. Over the years he built quite a name for himself as a portrait photographer and maintained a very active exhibition schedule. With the onset of World War One, there was a shortage of platinum printing paper. Dassonville did research to develop an alternative paper coating. By 1923 he was coating high quality paper with a new silver bromide emulsion that had the tonal intricacy of platinum. He called his paper "Charcoal Black" and it was heralded by Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham and many others.
A new monograph was recently printed called Dassonville, William E. Dassonville, California Photographer 1879-1957 with essay by Peter Palmquist.
[Contributed by Lee Gallery] 

Internet biographies

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Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
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