American Pictorialist William Edward Dassonville’s San Francisco

William Edward Dassonville, San Francisco from Telegraph Hill, ca. 1925 (2008.93.3)

William Edward Dassonville, Portsmouth Square, ca. 1925 (2008.93.4)

William Edward Dassonville, San Francisco from Telegraph Hill, ca. 1925 (2007.101.1)

William Edward Dassonville, Golden Gate Bridge from Sausalito, ca. 1937 (2008.104.9)

William Edward Dassonville, [Statue of cupid in park, San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition, Treasure Island], 1939-40 (2008.104.12)

Born in Sacramento, California, in 1879 to middle-class parents, William Edward Dassonville and his family moved to San Francisco when he was a child. He joined San Francisco’s avant-garde Camera Club wrote article for Camera Craft, the club’s publication. In his twenties, he became acquainted with the city’s artists including William Keith, George Stirling, Maynard Dixon, and John Muir, whom he later photographed in the portrait studio he opened with Oscar Maurer in 1900. Although the studio was destroyed by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Dassonville managed to salvage some of his work. He supported himself by taking portraits but continued to make platinum prints of the California landscape in the pictorialist style. In the 1920s, he increasingly focused on San Francisco’s architecture and waterfront. These impressionist images were printed on Dassonville’s own “Charcoal Black” paper. In response to the high cost of platinum, most manufacturers had stopped producing platinum printing paper by 1916. In response, the photographer and self-taught chemist developed an alternative paper coating that approximated the rich tones of platinum; Dassonville’s paper was celebrated (and used) by Ansel Adams, Imogene Cunningham, and others. Although the Californian won numerous prizes and awards and exhibited his landscapes alongside the work of Alfred Stieglitz, Clarence H. White, Gertrude Kasebier, and other pioneering pictorialists during his life, he was working as a medical photographer at Stanford University at the time of his death in 1957.

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2 Responses to American Pictorialist William Edward Dassonville’s San Francisco

  1. Tough Old Goat of a Photo Historian says:

    A fascinating post, as always. But you can do a little better estimating the date of the Golden Gate Bridge photo. Construction began in 1933. The bridge opened to traffic in 1937.

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