Monthly Archives: May 2015

From Stockton to Shakespeare

May 11, 2015

From Stockton to Shakespeare With Lots of Lectures in Between

A lot can happen in eight months. At the time of my last post I had just published the book The Public Library A Photographic Essay by Princeton Architectural Press. I had also just received a Guggenheim Fellowship to work on my current project in Stockton, CA. I spent much of the Spring and Summer giving lectures on the book in the Bay Area, New England, New York City and the American Library Association National Conference in Las Vegas.


Ellen in the San Joaquin copy 3

Ellen in San Joaquin County

RD at Altamont Pass copy 3

Photographing at dawn at Altamont Pass

Cambodians dancing in temple on New Years copy

Cambodians dancing in Buddhist Temple on New Years Day, Stockton

Deuel Prison Library copy

Deuel Prison Library, San Joaquin County

Commuter traffic at dusk, Altamont Pass copy 5

Commuter traffic at dusk, Altamont Pass

Dusk, Chavez Library, Stockton copy

Dusk, Chavez Library, Stockton

Lightroom (DSC_6582.NEF and 1 other)

Drought Food Giveaway, Thorton Community Center, Thorton

Homeless child, one.TLC school copy copy 2

Homeless child reading in public school for homeless children, Stockton

Lightroom (DSC_2919.NEF and 15 others)

ESL students, Adult School, Stockton

Punjabi language lesson, Sikh Temple, Stockton copy

Punjabi language lesson, Sikh Temple, Stockton

Pray for Rain sign, Farmington copy

Pray for Rain sign, Farmington

My wife Ellen Manchester and I have spent the last year working together on our project “Raising Literacy” in Stockton and San Joaquin County, CA. It is a photographic project looking at libraries and literacy in one of the least literate places in the country. In September, Ellen got an offer from her sister Martha that she couldn’t refuse. They traveled together doing a historical tour of Turkey for three weeks. Meanwhile, I spent much of that time traveling to Stockton. I am not sure which was more interesting but I would place my bets on Stockton.

Ellen and Martha Wright in Turkey

Ellen and sister Martha in Turkey

RD BPL Honored Author 2015 copy copy

Honored Author, Berkeley Public Library, Berkeley, CA

During the last eight months I have been giving lectures about my book The Public Library throughout California and in other parts of the country. A partial list of public libraries where I lectured include San Mateo, San Francisco, Long Beach, Pasadena, Los Feliz, San Rafael and Campbell, CA. I lectured on my general work at Napa Valley College in Napa and California State University at Fresno. I was the keynote speaker at the Santa Clara Library group, was an Honored Author at the Berkeley Public Library in Berkeley, and was honored at the Stanford Humanities Center Publication Celebration at Stanford University. I lectured at the California Library Association Annual Conference in Oakland, CA and also at the Texas Library Association Annual Conference in Austin, TX.

Professor Dawson working twice as hard at Stanford. Photo by Craig Weiss

Professor Dawson working twice as hard at Stanford. Photo by Craig Weiss

Of course throughout this time I was teaching my usual course load in the Art and Art History Department at Stanford. After retiring last June from teaching photography for twenty-eight years at San Jose State my current teaching assignment feels much lighter. This allows me the time to plunge into these new projects and lectures.

In December, Ellen and I started working on a new commission from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. They have asked us to photographically document their entire library and programming. They are one of the world’s great scholarly libraries and archive of Early Modern northern European history. They also have a wonderful education department, a renowned Shakespeare Theater and exciting exhibition program. This project and the Stockton project both come out of my large national public library project. It is exciting to now work on these two parallel projects that seem to represent the opposite ends of the library spectrum. We hope to produce a book and exhibition from both projects.

RD at Folger copy

Photographing scholars at Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC

Lariat Motel sign, Fallon, NV

Fallon Art Center, Fallon, NV

Finally, in January a group of friends of photographer Jack Fulton all secretly took the Amtrak train over the Sierras to surprise him at an opening of his work at the Fallon Art Center in the little western Nevada town of Fallon. It was a great adventure with a great group of friends and even Jack was a little choked up. Pure fun!

Stay tuned…

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Two old posts you may not have seen




One would think that as I retired from teaching photography at San Jose State University after twenty-eight years (and my wife Ellen retired from her long-term job at Earth Island Institute) that we would settle back and enjoy our “golden years”. But nooo. Not even close. Years ago we spent our honeymoon visiting the toxic waste sites of the American West so I guess our current crazy schedule makes some sense.

Our son Walker is enjoying his trip to South America with his friend Nick Neumann. They are taking a year trying to figure out if becoming a photojournalist can work. Here is Walker giving it his best shot in Rio. They also covered the protests outside the World Cup. Check out their blog at

Walker in Rio

I did a number of speaking engagements in the late Spring, early Summer. They included talks at Hattery in San Francisco, the Main Library in San Francisco (with Chief Librarian Luis Herrera), the Main Library in Oakland (with Librarian Dorothy Lazard), and the national conference of the American Library Association in Las Vegas, NV (imagine 18,000 librarians in Vegas!).


During our 2½ weeks of vacation and family in Vermont I only gave one lecture at the Howe Library, in Hanover, NH. (After all, I was on vacation!) After that we went to New York City where I gave a talk at the 92nd St. Y and at the fabulous Strand Bookstore. Most of the people that we dealt with there were young, wore skinny jeans and had piercing over their tattoos. But they were all self proclaimed “book nerds”. I love it when young people love books! Finally, we took the train down to Washington, DC and stayed with our friends Jeff and Suzie. We met with the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress which may collect my public library project for their permanent archive. We also met with the National Endowment for the Humanities about possibly funding a nation-wide traveling exhibition. I will let you know how these efforts develop.

Strand Bookstore, NYC

Strand Bookstore, NYC

Bob and Ellen, Cocoran Restaurant, The Bowery, New York City

The Stockton project continues to be fascinating, but hard. We were working intensely there before our East Coast trip. Since we returned we have gone many times to photograph libraries and literacy efforts in one of the least literate cities in the country. Here are some recent photos from the project. I will keep you posted as the “Raising Literacy” project grows over the next year.

Astronaut Hernandez grew up nearby as a child of migrant farm workers. By showing low-income kids a film of him floating in space he is trying to promote education and literacy, Sierra Vista Housing Project, Stockton, CA

Photographing future astronauts, Sierra Vista Housing Project, Stockton

Letters to Stockton City Councilman Michael Tubbs by young children complaining about the gun violence they endure, Sierra Vista Housing Project, Stockon

Bob photographing a Little Free Library, Wilson Way, Stockton

Little Free Libraries, Stockton

Democracy in action -Overflow audience at meeting defending their public library, Stockton City Council chambers, Stockton


  1. 9/18/14 Napa Valley College, Napa, CA
  2. 10/9/14 San Mateo Public Library, San Mateo, CA 6:30 PM
  3. 10/11/14 Noe Valley Branch Library, San Francisco, CA 2PM
  4. 10/19/14 Long Beach Public Library, Long Beach, CA 12:30 PM
  5. 10/20/14 Pasadena Public Library, Pasadena, CA 3 PM
  6. 10/20/14 Los Feliz Public Library, Los Feliz, CA 6:45 PM
  7. 10/24/14 Main Library, Marin Civic Center, San Rafael, CA
  8. 11/7/14 California Library Association conference, Keynote Speech, Marriott City Center, Oakland, CA 8:15 AM

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The Library Road Trip Goes to Denmark, Tucson and Back

12/2/11 – Greetings to all the new people that recently subscribed to this blog and hello to everyone else. It has been a long time since I last posted here (August 21st) and I wanted to bring you up to date on this project. Much of the last three months have been filled with my academic life teaching photography. When my teaching begins it is a little like being hit with a tsunami where everything gets swept up in the current. I now see the tide is beginning to subside and I can return to the public library project.

Even though I have been working full time quite a few things have been happening with the project. I began by developing a mountain of medium and large format film. I sent the color film out to be processed but all the black and white film I developed in my darkroom. I then began the enormous task of making contact prints of the black and white negatives and digital color photos of the color film negatives. That process took several months. It is slow and tedious but really fun to see the final results. Looking at the contact sheets is a little like opening Christmas presents. It is always exciting because I never know what I am going to get. All the images you see posted on this blog were made with our little digital Canon G-10 cameras. They are perfect for posting on blogs but the real final product are the images made with my medium and large format cameras on film. I have found that these larger film based images are still the best way for me to get the most beautiful results. I have finally picked the images I will scan into digital files. Now I am beginning to undertake the big job of scanning approximately 300 images from the Library Road Trip. I imagine that this will also take several months. With a little break coming soon with my teaching I hope to have this all done by the end of January. I have attached a few images of the process of developing film, selecting and scanning the negatives.

Many of you know that during this summer’s Library Road Trip I was conducting a Kickstarter campaign to help finance the trip. Fortunately, we reached our goal of $8,000. Many of the people that contributed got something from me for their donations. Most were prints of various sizes and books for the larger donations. In addition to everything else, I spent some time this Fall printing, signing and eventually mailing out all of these rewards. The unsung hero in all of this was my wife Ellen who helped enormously by keeping track of the 189 gifts that were mailed. I couldn’t have done it without her. Thanks Ellen! I have attached a couple of images of the Kickstarter work.

Last Spring I had an American Public Library project exhibit at the Main Library in San Francisco. After the show I received an email from Lars Olson who works for the city of Fanoe in Denmark. His daughter lives in San Bruno and while he was visiting he went to see the Library exhibit. He is a city manager in Fanoe and said that they were about to open a new school/community center/public library and wanted to have a permanent installation of my library work there. They also wanted to pay for us to spend a week in Denmark as their guests, give a few lectures and teach a workshop. Ellen and I gladly agreed and spent the first week in October on the beautiful little island of Fanoe off the southwest coast of Denmark. We also traveled to cities on the mainland where the show will be displayed in two other public libraries. It was fascinating to see the Danish public libraries where the work will be displayed.  It has been reported that the Danes are the happiest people on earth. Although they are heavily taxed they do get universal health care and free education through college. And they also have the least disparity of wealth. Do I see a pattern here? We were treated like royalty but when we got back I craved a fresh California salad!

At the end of October Ellen and I gave a presentation at the Center For Creative Photography at the University of Arizona in Tucson. It was a panel on our Water in the West Project that is now housed in their archive. This was a collaborative group project with twelve other photographers and the rest of the weekend we participated in a conference on the nature of archives. While we were there we went with writer Rebecca Solnit and Water in the West photographers Sant Khalsa and Geoff Fricker to the Occupy Tucson site. Of course, while I was there I had to photograph their library.

Besides scanning the images from this summer the next BIG part of this project is producing a book and a traveling exhibition. I have begun working with Princeton Architectural Press in New York to publish the book. We are currently investigating possible writers for the book. Please let me know if you have any suggestions. We are also open to some possible connections with other groups to help produce the book. I will keep you posted on the upcoming developments. In the next post I will also include some of the new work from the scans.

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Welcome! We’ve moved our blog — to read all about photographer Robert Dawson’s road trip across America photographing public libraries this summer, please visit us at:

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