6/19/16 – Somehow the beautiful little German town of DInkelsbühl escaped over 400 years of destruction from the Thirty Years War to WW II. Today it is one of those impossibly cute little European towns that is a tourist trap but still retains its integrity as a connection to another time. It’s library was simply magnificent. Because of the tight little streets I wasn’t able get back far enough to gain a perspective on the whole building. Fortunately, my colleague at Stanford, Craig Weiss, had lent me his old 28mm PC (perspective control) Nikon lens that allows me to get correct perspective and still get the whole building. It really came in handy here. Our next stop was the far western German town of Trier. Everything about this old Roman town was fascinating including the old funky Bulgarian owned hotel we stayed in. It is one of the oldest cities in Germany. Trier had seen some dark days including the first mass genocide of Jews around the year 1000 by the members of the first crusade on their way to Jerusalem to slaughter the Muslims and Jews there. The ancient cathedral contains plenty of ghosts from that horrible past as well as being the site of WW II Nazi speeches celebrating this “glorious” past. Trier today seems young and vital with an evening rock concert next to the Roman wall. It is one of our favorite places so far in Germany. However, the past feels close here in Europe.


6/20/16 – Another long day of driving from Trier to Luxembourg City to Verdun and Reims in France. The National Library of Luxembourg was odd. In one of the richest countries on earth the National Library was surprisingly modest. It’s all about priorities. As the very nice Staff member told us it is easier to fund sports arenas than libraries. The setting for the City is astonishing beautiful. I was interested in Verdun, France because of the memory of the First World War. The small town was completely destroyed during the war and it had the feeling of being suspended in time. The library was housed in a old government building and overflowed with an incredible collection. It’s main collection was medieval material but the librarian had recently been interviewed by CNN because of its WW I archive for the 100th anniversary of the famous battle of Verdun. It was another place that felt filled with ghosts of the past. We finally arrived in the old French city of Reims. It too had been destroyed during the First World War. The American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie had build three “front line” libraries after the war in towns that had been on Western Front. Reims was one of them and had an incredible library built in the 1920s. After dinner, Ellen and I walked with my cameras through the misty evening to the library. We could see it at the end of the fog shrouded street and after we tuned the the corner noticed it was across the street from the famous gothic cathedral of Reims. As I set up my camera to photograph the Art Deco library juxtaposed next to the Gothic cathedral the lights came on in both buildings. In the gloom of the evening I made what I think was one of the best photos of the trip so far.

6/21/16 – Most of the morning was spent photographing the interior of the Carnegie Library of Reims. The Reading Room was crowded and beautiful with great stained glass windows including one in the ceiling. I also focused on small details such as the tile panels in the lobby and a great Deco bannister. The rest of the afternoon was spent on a long drive in the rain driving to Belgium and finally Brussels. We first encountered the insane traffic of Brussels as we entered the downtown. This was the worst we had seen so far in Europe. As we neared our apartment we saw soldiers with machine guns quickly evacuating people from a building and closing streets. It showed the incredible security that Brussels is currently under from terrorist attacks. It wasn’t far from our minds throughout the time we were in Brussels. We arrived at our apartment in a downpour. We met up with Walker’s good friend Anita Willcox who helped us throughout our stay here. She was a class mate of Walker’s at the New School in New York and is now living in Brussels and is a graduate student here. She introduced us to a great dinner place and then we took a long walk through the street of Brussels that were finally free of the constant rain.img_3511Lightroom (DSC_4181.NEF and 7 others)


6/22/16 – Recovering a little from our constant travel over the last week we begin our photography in the early afternoon. We visit a special library called Bibliothêque Espace El Boroudi housed in a community center called Espace Magh. It was founded by a North African man named Boroudi who was an immigrant, labor activist and defender of immigrant’s rights in Brussels. The library was small and filled with a variety of Arab language books. It showed the commitment of one activist to making his community better. We then went to the small branch library called Bibliothêque Hergé. This was named after the famous Belgium author Hergé who lived in the neighborhood. Belgium is famous as a home for graphic books and art. Hergé’s series of books on Tintin introduced generations of children and adults to travel and the world. It was important for us to see a small, well run neighborhood library after seeing so many grand or unusual libraries. The Belgium soccer team was playing Sweden in the European Cup this night so as we ate dinner in an outside cafe in a little plaza we could hear the wild screams of the fans coming out the nearby bars. We saw Belgium win in the final minutes as we stood in an African run bar.


6/23/16 – The ancient Library of the Catholic University of Leuven housed an outstanding, irreplaceable archive of medieval manuscripts until it was completely destroyed by the German Army during WW I. As the idea of the Global Library Project began to form the story of this library caught my attention. The term “bibliocide” – the intentional destruction of books or libraries to punish or erase the memory of a people – is seen throughout the world and throughout history. This library was the first that I had seen that showed that concept. After a great international outcry over the destruction of the Leuven Library a great outpouring of support to rebuild the library occurred in the 1920s. Unbelievably, the Library was destroyed again in the fighting of WW II. It exists today as a monument to peace and a symbol of the horrors of war. The second library we photographed was the Bibliothêque Molenbeek. This neighborhood of Brussels became famous because of its large number of Muslim families living here and because some of the recent Islamic terrorists in Paris and Brussels came from here. In the US the name Molenbeek is synonymous with terrorism. The small Molenbeek public library had three wonderful librarians but was almost empty because of Ramadan. The photos I made outside showed the humble exterior of the library overshadowed by a massive apartment complex towering above. It showed the complexity of Europe today.


6/24/16 – After sleeping an exhausted sleep Ellen and I spent the entire day in our AirB&B room doing work and catching up on email. Walker and Anita did the laundry and got see the sites of Brussels.

6/25/16 – The Provinciale Bibliotheek in the tourist trap called Brugge was quite beautiful. While we were there we could feel the rising tide of tour busses, weddings and deep fat food filling the air. I would love to spend more time in this lovely old town but without the hoards of tourists. We finally arrive in the French seaside town of Calais. After checking in to our Ibis Hotel we head over to the most famous refugee camp in Europe called The Jungle. We meet a woman named Mary Jones who started the Jungle Books Library. Located on a former smelly landfill this remarkable place is filled with desperate men (the women and children are housed in a different camp) who are trying to illegally enter into England by way of the English Channel Tunnel which starts in Calais. For many this camp is the end of the line after an arduous journey escaping from war, starvation and poverty. We meet refugees here from many parts of the Muslim world as well as many Africans. The volunteer tutors were mostly younger women and mostly British. They gave me back some respect for the Brits after England’s recent stupid move of Bexiting the EU. The Jungle is a sad place and the Jungle Library is one of the very few bright lights in a dark place. On entering the Library I encountered a room made out of plastic sheeting overflowing with books and refugees. Intense tutoring sessions were being conducted on my right by a 24 year old British woman to a group of Iranian men. On my left an Indian looking woman was doing the same with a group of African men. Everyone seemed to desperately want to learn English although some of the Iranians seemed as interested in their beautiful tutor as they were in their language lesson. Walker and Ellen conducted an interview of Mary Jones while I photographed for many hours in this harsh place. Because most refugees did not want to be photographed I focused instead on symbols such as maps of refugee routes, hand drawn signs saying things like “I love Afghanistan” and language lessons on a chock board. I walk around the camp and photograph graffiti covered plastic shacks, an Ethiopian Coptic church and the sad little plastic covered places that the refugees call home. As I was finishing up a angry young Middle Eastern man insisted that I erase the photo he thought I had taken of him. I explained that I had not taken a photo of him and that I was using a film camera so there was nothing to erase. He still seemed angry and I could see the explosive frustration some of these refugees experience. As we were walking out we strolled down the Main Street of the camp. As we stood in front of the Jungle Book Library Kid’s Cafe (only for 18 year olds or younger) a fight broke out right in front of us. The Cafe immediately emptied on to the street with some kids carry pool sticks ready to fight. At exactly the same rime some dude came very close to pick pocketing my wallet which I had stupidly left in my back pocket. Fortunately I caught him before he could complete the heist. At that point we bailed from the Jungle. To decompress Walker nicely arranged a short drive to a spot on a cliff overlooking the French countryside and the English Channel where we ate bread and cheese and thought about our amazing day.


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The Library Road Trip Goes Global





6/15/16 – San Francisco to Boston. Boston to Lisbon. Lisbon to Munich.all in four days. I don’t want to bore you with the details of our cancelled flight, no sleep, etc. Because of this the 2016 Global Library Road Trip began a day late in Munich. We met our son Walker at the airport and spent the rest of the afternoon jet-lagged and road weary looking at this beautiful city for the first time. We scouted out the big Bavarian State Library which we will photograph tomorrow. The highlight of the bleary afternoon was visiting Munich’s English Garden. I have never seen people surfing a river before but the surf was really up that day.IMG_3329


6/16/16 – The morning was spent photographing the fabulous Bavarian State Library. This is one of the largest research libraries in the world with one of the world’s largest collections of books maps, and manuscripts.Globe, Munich copy

I photographed an amazing exhibit of medieval illuminated manuscripts and the massive interior of the library.

Illuminated manuscript, Munich copyWe spent several hours there while I photographed with my film and digital cameras. The beginning of this trip is a trial to figure out how to work with both my Mamiya 7 and the digital Nikon D800. It is also time for Ellen and Walker to define their roles in this multi-faceted, complex project. After walking through the old part of touristy but beautiful Munich. We spent the rest of the afternoon back at our Ibis Hotel getting organized.


6/17/16 – After a few more exterior shots of the Bavarian State Library we leave Munich through the green Bavarian countryside. Off in the distance we see the breathtakingly beautiful, snow covered Alps. I can’t imagine WW II being fought here. I can’t imagine how insane a Nazified Germany must have been. It is scary to think how this rich, beautiful, civilized country could have lost its mind under Hitler. We drive south while Ellen is driving, Walker is navigating and I’m in the back seat writing this blog. We eventually drive into Austria and then immediately drive into Switzerland. The Abby Library of St. Gall in St. Gallum is a jewel-like architectural masterpiece. I am stunned and have a hard time comprehending the beauty and history surrounding me. The two women accompanying us are very patient and allow us to extend our half an hour time period to an hour. I am like a kid in a candy store and make use of every precious minute I have. Afterwards, we walk out and find the main plaza of this small medieval town filled with books. It is fascinating to see the Swiss so rich with a love of reading. After dinner I drive two hours back north to the old village of Ulm. I am so exhausted that it is only talking with Walker about his work with LensCulture that I’m able to stay awake. We collapse into a deep sleep in Ulm.


6/18/16 – I thought we had seen the most beautiful library yesterday in St. Gallum. But this morning outside of Ulm I photographed the equally fantastic Wiblingen Library. Located in a former monastery this rococo fantasy is a perfect expression of Enlightenment exuberance and religious piety. While i was photographing, a large group of tourists came into the Library. Then a second group consisting of a bride in a white dress, the groom, a photographer and videographer and others started posing for photographs. Of course, this all wound up in my photographs of this spectacular library. RD at Wiblingen Library, UlmWedding, Wiblingen Library, Ulm copy

Later, we visited the old center of Ulm and walked through the 16th century cathedral which was the tallest building in the world for hundreds of years. We also photographed the ultra modern, pyramid shaped City Library. City Library, Ulm copy

Stuttgart was our next destination. The modern City Library there has a spectacular view from the eight floor looking down into the library. I spent a few happy hours photographing the view while switching lenses on both my digital and film cameras.

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Finishing Stockton/San Joaquin and Folger Shakespeare projects. Launching the new Lens of Literacy: The Global Library Project!




Finishing Stockton/San Joaquin and Folger-Shakespeare projects.

Launching the new Lens of Literacy: The Global Library Project!


Was it John Lennon that said “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans”? We have been making lots of plans for the launch of our upcoming Global Library Project. But all the things that make life happen have continued along as well. Here are a few of the highlights:

Every year in late Fall our friend the photographer extraordinaire Linda Connor throws a big birthday party up in the little Sierra Foothill town of Sheep Ranch, CA. It is always an amazing event and was doubly memorable as it was the last one for our dear friend Doug Muir who died last month. He will be missed!

Sheep Ranch 2015 copy

I continued to give many lectures around the state on the Public Library Project. Here is a photo by Brian Taylor of me at the Center For Photographic Arts in Carmel last January.

Dawson at CPA copy 2

The Public Library Project was the cover story of the Library of Congress magazine this month after their purchase last year of the entire project. Here is a link to the issue: http://www.loc.gov/today/pr/2015/15-190.html

Also, my photo “Rifle lesson, West Wendover branch library, West Wendover, Nevada” is in the opening exhibit at the new San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It was great to be in there with the Blue Chips! It was even better to have it hang on the same wall as a photograph by our late friend Doug Muir. Here is a photo of Ellen and me by our friend Janet Delaney at the big event.

Speaking of Blue Chips, here is a photo of Walker and his friend Nick Neumann with the great photographer Sabastião Salgado who gave a recent lecture at Stanford. What an honor to meet him!

Nick, Salgado + Walker copy

To prove that we are not “all work all the time” I’ve attached a few photos of Walker, Ellen and me at Camp Richardson at Lake Tahoe during the Winter, early Spring and late Spring. We can have fun, occasionally….

To finish our project on literacy efforts in Stockton and San Joaquin County we will have an exhibit coming up this November 10th through December 9th at Delta College in Stockton. This will primarily focus on literacy in Stockton and San Joaquin County. A year later we will have a larger exhibit at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. We will send out announcements as we get closer to those dates. We hope to produce a few publications associated with both exhibits. Here are some of the latest images from the project.

The Folger Shakespeare Library project book is also currently being developed. We will have more information as we get nearer to completion. Ellen and I are hoping to travel to Washington, DC in September to finish up the last of the photography. We can’t wait!

Finally, this summer we begin a new project based on my many years of work on libraries and literacy in the United States. Ellen, Walker and I will start our new Lens of Literacy: The Global Library Project by traveling for eight weeks this summer in Europe looking at the importance of libraries in that part of the world. We will photograph in Belgium, Holland, Germany, Poland, Ukraine and Moscow. We are especially interested in the role libraries play in assimilating the vast number of refugees in Europe. In Ukraine we will look at how libraries are helping veterans to reintegrate back into their culture. We will also look at the role of history and European libraries such as synagogues being made into libraries after the Holocaust in Poland. In the future the project will explore other regions of Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Oceana, South and Central America, and Canada.

Lens of Literacy: The Global Library Project is an Affiliate Project of Independent Arts and Media—a 501(c)(3) non profit fiscal sponsor for artists, journalists and media producers who are producing non-commercial work in the public interest. Follow our adventures here and on The Global Library Project Facebook page. And please make a tax-deductible contribution to our crowd-funded campaign.

Here is the link to our Campaign through Independent Arts & Media.

Lens of Literacy at Independent Arts and Media

Lightroom (IMG_9297.jpg)Photo by Walker Dawson, Monte Azul favela, São Paulo, Brazil


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More Stockton, More Folger-Shakespeare and the Public Library Project Finds a Permanent Home at the Library of Congress

October 26, 2015

More Stockton, More Folger-Shakespeare and the Public Library Project Finds a Permanent Home at the Library of Congress

Since my last post in May I have continued to photograph with my wife Ellen in Stockton and San Joaquin County. We are looking at efforts to bring literacy to one of the least literate places in the country. We started the project in 2014 with the expectation that it would last for one year. We are now trying with all of our might to wrap it up at the end of two years. However, it is such an interesting yet difficult project that the longer time makes sense. Here are a few photos I’ve made on the project since my last post:

Farmland, Clifton Court Rd, SJ County copy Linden branch library, Linden copy 2 Lunch crowd, St. Mary's Dining Room, Stockton copy No One Is For Sale sign, Stockton copy 2 Painting on Mexican food truck, Stockton copy People and shadows in front of Sikh Temple, Stockton copy 2 Lightroom (DSC_7893.NEF and 1 other) Lightroom (DSC_7103.NEF and 4 others) Lightroom (Back of Stockton Motor Inn pano.psd and 1 other) Lightroom (DSC_6875.NEF and 5 others) Tile mosaic, Manteca Mosque, Manteca copy 3

Ellen and I continued our project in Washington, DC at the Folger-Shakespeare Library. We spent our last ten day session photographing in DC. We hope to produce a book from this work next year in collaboration with the Folger-Shakespeare Library in celebration of the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The Library will also be touring a set of Shakespeare’s First Folios to all fifty states in the US. More will be written here about this work as we get closer to the date.

Washington, DC

I gave several talks about my work throughout the last five months including the American Library Association National Conference in San Francisco, the Los Altos Public Library, Stanford University and the San Mateo Public Library – all in the Bay Area. I had my work in a group show at the fabulous Nevada Art Museum in Reno. I recently did an exhausting but fun all-day workshop for PhotoAlliance in San Francisco.

The biggest event during these last five months has been the purchase of my entire public library project by the Library of Congress. I spent all of July (on our vacation in Vermont) and August scanning negatives, spotting the scans and finally printing all 681 prints.

21 years of libraries + Robert Dawson, San Francisco, CA

21 years worth of public library photographs

IMG_1295 copy

Cottage industry – Ellen at work

Drawing LRT map copy

Bob and Walker mapping the Library Road Trips

We shipped them off to the Library of Congress at the beginning of September and I was very happy that the Republicans didn’t shut down the government before I got my check! I am also happy to have my work permanently housed in one of the largest and most important libraries in the world. I have included below a few photos from the new scans from this summer that have never been seen before by the public. These were some of the many images I made for the project that never made it into the book. Once these images are all scanned they will be available for viewing on the LC website or by appointment to researchers at the Library of Congress in Washington. Here is link to an article about the purchase: http://hyperallergic.com/248361/library-of-congress-acquires-portfolio-of-681-photos-of-us-public-libraries/


Eminence, MO

Eminence, MO

Entrance, Rainbow branch library, Las Vegas, NV

Entrance, Rainbow branch library, Las Vegas, NV

Fairplay, CO

Fairplay, CO

Lightroom ((left) Gillette, WY015.tif and 1 other)

Gillette, WY (diptych)

Grafton, NH 1994

Grafton, NH

Mulberry St. branch, New York, NY

Mulberry St. branch, New York, NY

West Hartford, VT 1998

West Hartford, VT

Willow, AK

Willow, AK

As Summer turned to Fall I returned to my teaching at Stanford. We are all fortunate in the Art Department to be teaching at the brand new McMurtry Art Building. It is quite an adventure to be teaching in such a highly designed and considered space. It is a work of art and we will see how it works as a teaching space. So far, so good.


Finally, our son Walker spent 11 months in 2014-2015 traveling, filming and photographing with his friend Nick Neumann throughout Latin America. Walker also did a more recent trip in August by himself to Sweden and northern Mexico. In addition to many other subjects Walker was photographing public libraries. These will be combined with my earlier photos of overseas libraries to start a new project called The Global Library. Stay tuned to see what Ellen, Walker and I have learned from our earlier projects and how we apply that knowledge to the world.

Interior, Kolding Bibliotek, Denmark

Interior, Kolding Bibliotek, Denmark

Stairway, Kolding Bibliotek, Denmark

Stairway, Kolding Bibliotek, Denmark

Library, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Library, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Interior of library, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by Walker Dawson

Interior of library, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by Walker Dawson

To be continued…

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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 http://wearebreakingborders.com

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: LibraryRoadTrip.wordpress.com

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Lots of water under the bridge since I last wrote. Quite simply, it has been one of the more amazing times of my life! And one of the more rewarding times as well.

I mentioned in the last blog that we had applied for a large-scale Creative Work Fund grant. It is a San Francisco Bay Area based grant for people working at the intersection of art and social change. They are very difficult grants to get and to our absolute amazement we received the award last Fall for our project in Stockton, CA. Stockton is the second largest city in the country to declare bankruptcy and one of the least literate cities in the nation. My wife Ellen Manchester and I will be looking at efforts to bring literacy and hope to this very dysfunctional place. We are working with a group called the Library and Literacy Foundation of San Joaquin County and also the San Joaquin County Library system. The grant will help get this project started but we will need to raise additional funds to complete the project. More grants to write! After 18 years of looking at libraries throughout the United States we will spend the next year looking at one library system. From the macro to the micro. The following are some preliminary images from Stockton including a portrait of me with Mas’ood Cajee who is our contact with the Library and Literacy Foundation. He has a remarkable life story and his day job is being a dentist.

Ellen at Stockton Asparagus Festival, Stockton, CA

Ellen at the Stockton Asparagus Festival, Stockton, CA

Hmong videotapes, Angelou Library, Stockton, CA


Hmong videotapes, Maya Angelou Branch Library, Stockton, CA

Lightroom (DSC_0339.NEF and 5 others)

Languages, Main Library, Stockton, CA

Masood and Bob, Stockton, CA

Mas’ood and Bob, Main Library, Stockton, CA

Trivia Bee, Stockton, CA

Five hundred people supporting literacy at the Stockton Trivia Bee, Stockton, CA



We officially launched the book The Public Library A Photographic Essay in New York City in mid-March. Ellen, our son Walker and I flew back and I gave the kick-off lecture at the main library in Brooklyn on March 20th. I also gave another slide show/lecture at the Mid-Manhattan library on the 26th. Both were well attended and really gave me the idea that the book will be well received. During this week the publisher, Princeton Architectural Press, told me that they are already starting to do a second printing of the book just from all the pre-sales. Yikes! We met and had dinner with several dear friends during our time in New York. One of the highlights of the trip was meeting and delivering a book to Bill Moyers at his office in Manhattan. Ellen said that meeting him was one of the great moments in her life. The photo of her being hugged by Moyers shows her beaming! The books finally hit the bookstores at the beginning of April. After a twenty year gestation period it was nice to see it finally out in the world.

The week in New York began a long series of interviews and articles about the book and the project. These include stories in the New Yorker online, the Wall Street Journal, the Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, The Christian Science Monitor, ArchNewsNow, Goodreads, New York Journal of Books, Seattle Pi, Book Page, Design Observer, The Morning News, SF Gate blog, FastCompany, Gizomodo, NPR Books tumblr, Architecture and Artisnas, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Bob Edwards show on NPR, the Scott Simon show on NPR, CNN, radio station WICN in MA, BYU Radio, the Los Angeles Times, Parade Magazine, Lost at E Minor, Scratch, Lonny, The Dish at Stanford, the Paris Review blog, Shelf Awareness, Next City, the Findery, etc. This is certainly my fifteen minutes of fame! I am sure that there will be more to come.

Book cover

Bob at NYPL

Bob at the New York Public Library, New York, NY

Bill Moyers and Ellen

Bill Moyers and Ellen, New York, NY

Books for sale, SF

The Public Library A Photographic Essay on sale at Folio Books, San Francisco, CA

One of the strangest things to come out of all this shows the reach of the media. I received an email from a retired lawyer in Texas saying that he had heard my NPR interview with Scott Simon. He asked if I had ever photographed the library in Deer Lodge, MT. I sent him a photo of the Kohrs Library in Deer Lodge that I had made in 2000. I explained to him that my mother came from an old pioneering family that had first settled the area in the 1860s. He wrote back and asked me her name. It turns out he is a long-lost cousin from a branch of my mother’s family that I was unaware of. Talk about six degrees of separation! When I had a reception at the University of California at Santa Cruz of a show with Joel Leivick and David Pace another long-lost cousin showed up and we met. Here is a photo of Alan Burns from Missoula, MT (brother of Dennis Burns, the retired lawyer from Texas), my sister Jane Dawson and I at a coffee shop in Santa Cruz.

Alan, Jane and RD

Alan Burns, Jane Dawson and Bob



During the same week that the book was officially launched it was announced that I had received a Guggenheim Fellowship. I had known about the Guggenheim for about a month before they announced it. I had wanted to jump up and down and let everyone know that I had received it but they have a policy of waiting until they officially announce it. The following week one of my former Stanford photography students, Josh Hanner received a Pulitzer Prize in Photography. Needless to say, April was a very good month. A friend of ours, Greg Conniff had received a Guggenheim Fellowship several years ago. More importantly than the fame or money associated with the Guggenheim was the energy receiving the Fellowship gave him. I am very humbled by knowing the long list of great photographers that got this award in the past. I hope that the work I do over the next year will be worthy of this endorsement.



This has been a period a great transitions and accomplishments, large and small. One large effort that I was a small part of is the new exhibit and book from Stanford’s Cantor Art Center called Carleton Watkins The Stanford Albums. I have one essay in this beautiful book. In writing the essay it was nice for me to be able to combine my art history background with being a working photographer.


I finally went to one of my James Marshall high school class reunions. I was in the class of 1968 and at the reunion I was somewhat overwhelmed at talking with people I hadn’t seen in 46 years. Fortunately we all had nametags. Ellen gets the award for bravery for spending the evening at a VFW hall in West Sacramento with a room full of strangers and me. We did drive up to the reunion with my friend and classmate Nils Ohlson. Here is a photo of us in our letter sweaters. They still fit!

RD&Nils Marshall High reunion

Bob and Nils, West Sacramento, CA

One of the biggest transitions for me right now is retiring from teaching photography at San Jose State after 28 years. I’m sad to leave my colleagues there but glad to have more time to work on my projects. I will continue to teach photography at Stanford. Because of all this Ellen and I decided to take a weekend vacation to one of our favorite places, Camp Richardsons at Lake Tahoe with our friends Thom Sempere and his wife Susan. Four days of riding bikes, hiking, great conversations and doing nothing was bliss! Here is a photo of Ellen and I on the beach and me chillin’ under the pines.

RD and Ellen, Lake Tahoe, CA

RD chillin' at Tahoe

The following is a list of upcoming talks I will be giving in the Bay Area in June.


June 5, 2014

Architecture of Knowledge: A Photographic Survey of America’s Libraries

Photographer Robert Dawson in conversation with SF Chronicle architecture critic John King about Dawson’s 18-year project and new book “The Public Library: A Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson”

Book signing to follow

7:00 pm Tickets $10-$15


414 Brannan St



June 11, 2014

Photographer Robert Dawson in conversation with Luis Herrera, City Librarian about Dawson’s new book “The Public Library: A Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson”

Book signing to follow

6:00 pm FREE

San Francisco Public Library

100 Larkin



June 12, 2014

Photographer Robert Dawson in conversation with Dorothy Lazard, Librarian at the Oakland Public Library about Dawson’s new book “The Public Library: A Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson”

Book signing to follow

6:00 pm FREE

Oakland Main Library

125  14th Street at Oak




Here are some other talks I will be giving throughout the country this summer and fall. You are invited to attend any of these if you are in the area.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Artist’s talk, panel discussion and book signing

American Library Association annual conference

3:00 pm

Las Vegas, NV



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Artist talk and book signing

7:00 pm FREE

Howe Library

Hanover, NH



Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Artist talk and book signing

92nd Street Y

12:00 noon Tickets available

1395 Lexington Ave

New York, NY



Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Artist talk and book signing

Strand Bookstore

Tentative date. TBD

828 Broadway

New York, NY


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Artist talk and book signing

Noe Valley/Sally Brunn Branch San Francisco Public Library

2:00 pm FREE

451 Jersey St

San Francisco, CA 94114


Friday, November 7, 2014

Artist talk and book signing

California Library Association annual conference

Oakland City Center Marriott

Oakland, CA



Walker will be leaving next month for a yearlong trip throughout South America with his friend Nick Neumann. They will be photographing, filming and blogging from the road. Ellen and I will be spending the rest of our free time working on the library and literacy project in Stockton. We look forward to hearing from you and, as always, would appreciate any feedback you may have on this blog. We always enjoy hearing from you. To be continued….

Ellen and farm worker school, French Camp, CA

Ellen photographing a school for children of farm workers, French Camp, San Joaquin County, CA

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It has been a long time since I posted a blog on my Public Library project. I wanted to bring you up to date on this amazing journey and let you know about upcoming events. My last post came shortly after my 2012 summer Library Road Trip with Walker. Later, after looking at my work from the whole project I realized that I had photographed a lot of libraries in poor communities but few in wealthy ones. Some of the wealthiest communities in the nation are right here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Walker and I photographed several libraries in Silicon Valley and Marin County. It helped to balance out the project.

I soon became caught up in my normal, crazy academic schedule teaching five classes at two universities. I also came down with what turned out to be a long-term staph infection in my sinuses. I am finally over most of it. In the Fall, 2012 and Spring, 2013 I began working closely with Princeton Architectural Press producing the book. Late in the Fall we spent the Thanksgiving holiday in New York and later in New England with Walker, Ellen, her brother John Manchester and his wife Kate. We were in New York City two weeks after Hurricane Sandy had devastated the area. Our friend Stanley Greenberg took us out to the Rockaways along the Brooklyn shoreline. The branch library there had just been emptied of its water-soaked books. Parked in front was a Queens Library bookmobile. It was one of the few places around where people could recharge their cell phones, get on the internet of just get warm. I took the last photographs for the project of that sheltering mobile library.

The Spring of 2013 was probably the busiest and most stressful time of my life. In addition to my academic responsibilities and being sick I was working full-time on the book. I also applied for and received a Graham Foundation grant to work on the Public Library project. I also applied and am currently a finalist for a Creative Work Fund grant to document the library and literacy campaigns in the distressed city of Stockton, CA. If I receive the grant it could provide a new direction for my project beyond the publication of the book. Added to all this I produced a 30 year retrospective exhibition of my work for a show at the Thomas Welton Stanford Gallery at Stanford University. Whew! No wonder I felt exhausted all Spring.

Putting together all the parts of this very complex book took up all of my free time. Throughout the Spring I was literally working seven days a week. Working with my two editors at Princeton was a delight. Sara Bader and Sara Stemen are real professionals and have been very patient with all my distractions. It is nice to work with people that know the English language so much better than I do and, at the same time, penetrate the complexity of legal contracts with writers and publishers. And they did this with humor and wisdom! I know that I have been lucky working with the two Saras. Equally important was the help and encouragement from my wife Ellen and our son Walker. I literally could not have done this project without them. The production of the book involved selecting and sequencing the images; finalizing the text, labels and extended captions; getting permissions from the writers, their agents or publishers and countless little details that needed attention.

The big day arrived in mid-April when Ellen and I finished everything, put all the book parts in a box and sent it off to Princeton. Afterwards, we even had time for dinner and a much-appreciated glass of wine. Later in the Spring we received the first two edits of the book by email. We met with Princeton in New York in mid-July when they had literally just printed out the first hard copy of the book mock-up. We took it with us to our little cabin in the woods in Vermont and sent it back a few weeks later. In early September I sent back the second version of the mock-up to Princeton. After approving the cover design I have been working with Princeton’s publicity person to develop a plan to publicize the book. I have also been working on lots of little details since then.

A website and traveling exhibition are part of our future tasks. I will keep you informed as we get closer to our publication date of April, 2014. Until then, please stay tuned and stay in touch.


Redwoods, Mill Valley library, Mill Valley, CA


Bookmobile, Rockaways, NY


Print selection, San Francisco, CA


Assistant print selector, San Francisco, CA


Laying out the book, San Francisco, CA


Final design and layout, San Francisco, CA


Initial mock-up, San Francisco, CA


Last details, April, 2013, San Francisco, CA


Last proof read, April, 2013, San Francisco, CA


Ellen packing it up!, April, 2013, San Francisco, CA


Editing first print out, Vermont


Swatting flies and editing book, Vermont


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7/15/12 – We headed west from Durango to the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation. We knew that this was a poor tribe and we wanted to see if they had a library. We found it in a low office building shared with other tribal agencies. As far as we could tell the town was completely empty. I photographed the library and the surrounding desert including some far-off buttes. Just as I finished, out of the empty streets came a Ute man who asked if we had gotten permission to photograph. I explained that we hadn’t seen any signs stating that we needed permission but we certainly would have asked had we known we needed it. Plus everything was closed and there were no people to ask. He then said that we would have to pay a fine and he would have to confiscate my film. I could see that he was quite serious. I started talking about the library project and how it was intended to point out the importance of public libraries across the country. I told him how I came out of a working class background in West Sacramento and how my local library and my education helped show me a bigger world. He started to soften. His name was Seleyin White Skunk and he had served as an Army Ranger. He too had found that reading and education were essential to broadening his own worldview. He was now Tribal Chairman and he said that they were struggling to get their kids to read or use the library that I had just photographed. It was interesting to see how the library project became a way to bring us together. We both understood how essential education was for rising above our pasts. In the end he gave us permission and wished us a safe trip. We drove west under increasingly cloudy skies. Bluff, Utah was a fascinating town made up of Navajos, Mormons and Mormon Navajos. The library was housed in the old jail with a sign still above the door saying “Obedience To The Law Means Freedom”. It was made of very solid bricks. It was an interesting building with the Mormon Church and bright red desert buttes in the background. As I focused the 4X5 camera for the last shot a huge desert sand and rainstorm hit like a slap. I quickly put one foot down on my dark cloth that was starting to fly away. At the same time I reached over to grab my tottering camera on its tripod before it blew away. Just then Walker came running over and I yelled for him to put my large camera backpack in the car. I threw the 4X5 in the trunk and got wind blasted and soaked as I retracted the legs of my tripod. We were all shocked at how quickly and furiously the storm hit. We tried to wait out the storm in the car but eventually drove off into the wind and rain. Like the title of the Gary Nabhan book the desert smelled like rain. We continued west excited about seeing Monument Valley Tribal Park. The rain came in waves of violent downpours followed by cloudy darkness. As we approached the famous desert buttes of Monument Valley the sky was black except for a small light part in back of the buttes. Even thought it was raining we jumped out of the car and took what may be very interesting photos of the ironic rock formations. The Visitors Center was interesting because the Navajos, not the National Park Service, ran it. The Navajo Nation is one of the largest Indian Reservations in the country and includes the Hopi Reservation within it. The last library of the day was in the Navajo/Hopi town of Tuba City, AZ. Originally built as a Trading Post it now contained what a local Hopi man called “a lot of history”. Etched against a bright blue sky and sharp desert light I wished that this beautiful building could tell me its stories. We continued on into the changing weather. As we approached the eastern edge of Grand Canyon National Park we were treated to another whopping downpour followed by a weird lightshow in the sky. It was fantastic and unlike anything any of us had seen before. We made it to the Rim of the Grand Canyon in the last light of the day. Flashes of lightening were visible in the east from the storm we had just passed through. Nature never ceases to be endlessly fascinating.



7/16/12 –  Grand Canyon – one of the Earth’s most powerful, inspiring landscapes – overwhelmed our senses. Its story tells of geologic processes played out over unimaginable time spans was a unique combination of size, color and dazzling geologic forms. It was a mile deep and 2 billion years in the making. We started the day with an early morning 3-mile hike to Ooh Ahh Point in the Grand Canyon. It was a thousand foot drop to a spectacular panoramic overview inside the Canyon. Of course, it was a thousand foot climb back up to the Rim. Walker did it in flip-flops dodging a giant rock that almost smashed his skull. The only library of the day and the last one for this year’s Library Road Trip was the Community Library in the Grand Canyon Village. Like Death Valley and Yosemite this was a public library within the National Park. It was actually a branch of the Flagstaff, AZ library and the librarian was an employee of the Flagstaff Public Library. It was originally built as a one-room schoolhouse in 1906. Its rustic cabin features fit nicely into the surrounding pine forest. The librarian apologized for the scaffolding on the front but I explained that I liked to photograph libraries as they actually are rather than an idealized version. We then drove straight for 500 miles over eight hours until we arrived in Bakersfield, CA. Our only stop was in Needles, CA where we got ice cream at the local DQ. It was 110 degrees outside but it felt great to be back in California. After seeing much of the country on these two big Library Road Trips we are still fascinated by the diversity of our home state including the strange desert of culture of places like Needles. We had the interesting realization that the two Library Road Trips touched here in Needles. The first night of last year was spent here. It was only 109 degrees then, but it was at night. Now we were traveling through here again on one of the last days of this trip. As we entered the San Joaquin Valley we thought of the Joad family as they first glimpsed this agricultural paradise in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. We drove into Bakersfield listening to Willie Nelson and mariachi music. According to the American Lung Association’s 2012 study this city has the worst air quality in the nation. Fortunately, we escaped most of the heat and pollution with a cool breeze blowing through the streets of Bakersfield.

Last year we photographed 189 libraries in eight weeks traveling over 11,000 miles. This year we photographed 110 libraries in four weeks traveling over 10,000 miles. In other words we traveled almost as many miles as last summer in half the time. No wonder we are exhausted! This year’s journey was much faster paced. In addition to photographing white culture this year we focused more on Indian culture. Last year we focused more on black and Hispanic culture. I am now ready to go home and develop and edit the film from this trip. After that I will be working 24/7 on the book. More on that later. Thanks for following this blog. Your comments are appreciated. I will be uploading some of the film images once I get them developed. I will also let you know the progress of the book. Until then, happy trails. And give your local librarian a hug.


10,000 miles of bugs!


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7/12/12 – Calling the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains the Front Range has always been surprising to me. Coming from California I would have called it the Back Range. The name reflects the Eastern orientation of the first American settlers in the area. Kiowa, CO was located in the prairie of eastern Colorado. Ellen felt that this was where the mid-West ends and the West begins. The library was housed in a beautiful former church. The crosses were still on the steeple and the stonework was magnificent. Walker discovered that the owner of a local store was from Iran but now mostly lived in San Jose, CA. This was surprising in this region of a mostly white state. Colorado Springs, CO is a hotbed for Christian conservatism. Years ago the town leaders wanted to diversify the economy from its dependence on the military. They invited in a conservative Christian mega-church that wound up being a magnet for like-minded people. We met our friends from Minneapolis, JoAnn Verberg and Jim Moore, in a great little café in Colorado Springs. JoAnn was one of the three principle members of the Rephotographic Survey Project along with Ellen and Mark Klett. We went to one of their rephotographic sites in the beautiful Garden of the Gods State Park. This area had incredible uplifted sandstone rock formations that contrasted nicely with the nearby Rockies. JoAnn set up her 5X7 camera by the side of the trail and did a diptych portrait of our family with the red cliffs as a background. As she was setting up the camera and posing us 192 cross country runners from all over the country came by in their multi-colored running gear. As they posed for their portrait we posed for ours. After we left JoAnn and Jim we drove west into the Rockies under a darkening sky. By the time we got to Hartsel, CO it was just about to rain. The old looking library was beautiful in the gray light with the red clouds glowing off in the distance. I made the last shot just as the rain began to fall. Fairplay, CO was located high in the mountains almost at 10,000 feet. I was stunned at the beauty of its tall, old library. I scrambled to set up the 4X5 in the last light of dusk. The automatic lights went on in the closed library as I made my last shot. We drove on in the dark and landed in the mountain town of Buena Vista, CO.


7/13/12 – Ellen lived in Colorado during the 1970s. Since that time many of the quaint, funky mining towns of the area had changed, sometimes drastically. Crested Butte was a case in point. It was almost abandoned in the 70s with dirt streets and tumble down stores. Because of that it possessed a great deal of charm and character. Ellen almost cried when she saw it again today. It really had become a theme park of an old mining town. It was jammed with tourists who were mostly middle and upper middle class and all white. What had once been interesting was now replaced by made-safe-for-the-tourists blandness. The library was one of the few buildings in town that retained its original character. It seemed real as opposed to the fantasy of the rest of the town. I set up my 4X5 outside. Just as I clicked the shutter a homeless guy wandered into the frame, two young women continued what seemed like an endless conversation and a guy on a mountain bike zoomed by. It may make for an interesting photograph. Crested Butte was out of our way so we had to quickly move on to our next stop. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison was an outstanding natural landmark in an area full of them. We peered down 2,000 feet to the canyon floor with the fast-flowing Gunnison River looking like a silver sliver. Geologist Wallace Hansen wrote “Some are longer, some are deeper, some are narrower, and a few have walls as steep. But no other canyon in North America combines the depth, narrowness, sheerness and somber countenance of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.” We were overwhelmed by the beauty of the place and spent far more time here than we had planned. After a long drive we arrived in the old mining town of Ouray, CO. Like Crested Butte it had become a tourist town. But as Walker explained it didn’t matter because the setting was so spectacular. On top of that the library with its beautiful steeple was one of the best of the trip. I had a hard time doing it justice with my 4X5 camera. The light was flat, it was starting to rain and we were in a hurry. Hopefully, I got something good. Shooting film means that you never know what you captured until the end of the trip. Then it is like opening presents at Christmas. After Ouray we immediately started up the “million dollar highway” to the 11,000 foot Red Mountain Pass. Sheer drops, granite walls, fading light and a rainstorm greeted us as we climbed up this incredible road. The drive was both terrifying and thrilling producing feelings of vertigo along the way. We eventually made it to the very cool mining town of Silverton. In the last light with long exposures I tried to capture the town’s red brick library. I tried to place it in the spectacular setting but the most interesting photo may have been the Hispanic kids playing on the play structure in front of the library. The fast moving children and my one-second exposures may be interesting. Leaving Silverton we crossed over two more 10,000 foot passes in a light rain. We arrived in Durango, CO late, tired and happy after such a rich day of travel. While eating green chili enchiladas and blue corn tortillas in Durango we felt like we had left the Rocky Mountains and entered the Southwest.


7/14/12 – Last night in Durango we felt like we had arrived in the Southwest. Today we went back to the high Rocky Mountains to visit the little mining-town of Rico, CO. Its Library/City Hall was again one of the best of the trip. Dramatic mountains rose high above us on all sides. The sky was getting darker as I set up my camera. After I took one photo the rain starting pouring down. I scrambled to toss all of my equipment back in the car before it got soaked. Two more times I got out to photograph and two more times the sky dumped. Eventually, I finished with the beautiful exterior and then went inside to photograph the interesting, small, dark library. As I did, I looked outside and noticed the rain coming down again in earnest. The library was built when Rico was a very rich boomtown. After the collapse of the mining industry here it fell on hard times. But it seemed to be struggling back while still retaining its unique character. We drove out of the mountains and back to the southwest. We spent the afternoon in Mesa Verde National Park. This area is home to the famous ancient cliff dwellings. Not much is known about them but the structures they left behind speak with a certain eloquence. They tell of a people adept at building, artistic in their crafts, and skillful at making a living from a difficult land. No one knows why they abandoned the area in the late 1200s. Perhaps, like Cahokia in Illinois these Ancient Puebloans overused their natural resources or left because of extended drought. We did a self guided tour of the Spruce Tree House, the best preserved of the ancient structures. Later, we thoroughly enjoyed the hour long, ranger led tour of the Cliff Palace, the largest of the cliff dwellings. We ran out the clock on the daylight, dashing from site to site until dark.


Filed under American Life, art, Libraries, Photography, Public Libraries, Road trip, Robert Dawson Library