Friday, April 3, 2009

William Dassonville, Yosemite Valley


Yosemite Valley
Photograph, Platinum Print, 1906

The following is from the book Dassonville, with a biographical essay by Peter Palmquist.

William Dassonville’s photographic legacy is considerable, including an outstanding body of fine photographs in the pictorialist tradition. During his lifetime his photographs were widely published and he won numerous prizes and honors. He was an innovative craftsman and self-taught chemist, a perfectionist who developed and marketed his own line of photgraphic printing paper: Charcoal Black.

Born in Sacramento, CA, in 1879, William Dassonville was given a camera as a youth and made photos of his friends and relatives. In 1900 he opened a portrait studio in San Francisco, and about that time he joined the California Camera Club. In addition to portraits he did landscapes and seascapes. His favorite areas to photograph included Yosemite, the High Sierra, the Pacific Coast around Monterey and Carmel, and Marin County north of San Francisco. Dassonville exhibited at the San Francisco Photography Salons of 1901, 1902, and 1903. His works traveled the nation with the American Photography Salon. In 1906 the San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed his studio and all negatives of his pre-1906 work were lost, but he continued to exhibit his photographs. By 1910 his portrait business had grown and he had many customers of significant financial means. When World War I caused a critical shortage of platinum printing papers which Dassonville’s work depended on, he began to experiment with a silver bromide emulsion to coat high quality paper. This led to his Charcoal Black paper and in 1924 he sold his portrait studio to concentrate on the manufacture and marketing of Charcoal Black. He had good success with this as it was popular with photographers such as Ansel Adams. In 1941, at age 62, Dassonville sold the business. He continued to be active in photography, and worked as a medical photographer at Stanford University’s Hospital in San Francisco. William Dassonville died July 15, 1957, in San Francisco.

-- Lois Smalley