"Robert Dawson's work is an irrefutable argument for the presevation of public libraries. His book is profound and heartbreakingly beautiful."

-Toni Morrison


For over eighteen years photographer Robert Dawson traveled throughout the United States documenting hundreds of public libraries, large and small, old and new, urban and rural, in poor communities, and in wealthy ones. The Public Library A Photographic Essay presents a wide selection of Dawson's photographs-from the majestic reading at the New York Public Library to Allensworth, California's one-room Tulare County Free Library built by former slaves. Here you will find literary libraries, storm-damaged libraries, a haunted library, libraries as sanctuaries, libraries as art museums, and libraries as memorials. This book documents our vibrant, essential, yet threatened library system as it undergoes profound changes in its identity and purpose- yet remains at the very heart of American civic life. As Bill Moyers notes in his forward, "Robert Dawson shows us in this collection what is at stake: when a library is open, no matter its size and shape, democrarcy is open, too."

Accompanying Dawson's photographs are a forward by Bill Moyers, an afterword by Ann Patchett, and essays, letters, and poetry celebrating libraries by Philip Levine, Anne Lamott, Amy Tan, Barbara Kingsolver, E.B. White, Isaac Asimov, Charles Simic, and others.

Co-authored by Robert Dawson, Stephen Johnson and Gerald Haslam. and published by the University of California Press in 1993. It was listed as one of the best books of the year by the New York Times. Other awards include Award of Merit, American Associating of State and Local History; Bay Area Book Reviewers Association Nonfiction Award; Silver Medal for California Literature from the Commonwealth Club; Book Show Award from the Association of American University Presses; Finalist for 1994 Literary Award, Pen Center USA West; Golden Light Award, Maine Photographic Workshops.

The project was a four-year photographic survey of California's intensely farmed agricultural heartland. The Valley's huge agricultural productivity makes it a major factor in California's wealth. Our project was concerned with the modern reshaping of the Valley's landscape and the ramifications of this throughout the American West. In 1986 a major traveling exhibition from the project began a statewide tour after opening at the California Academy of Sciences, the sponsoring institution.

This book is still in print through the University of California Press. Also, a limited number of new signed copies are still available if you order directly from Robert Dawson.

The book Farewell, Promised Land: Waking from the California Dream was co-authored with Gray Brechin. It was published by the University of California Press in 1999 in conjunction with a large exhibit at the Oakland Museum. This exhibit traveled throughout California for six years and was sponsored by the California Council For the Humanities. It was listed as one of the Best Books of the year by the Washington Post, Washington, DC; the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA; and the San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco, CA.

Photographer Robert Dawson and writer Gray Brechin in 1992 won the prestigious Dorothea Lange/Paul Taylor Prize from the Center For Documentary Studies at Duke University. At that time, they proposed to look at California thirty years after the publication of Ray Dasmann's classic of the conservation movement, The Destruction of California. They then spent the next five years driving and flying over the state to record its dramatic transformation. As they did so, they also observed the close relationship between California's environmental and social history. For all the destruction which they witnessed, however, Brechin and Dawson discovered that California remains a remarkable source of innovation which is often fueled by love of the place and memory of what it once was. They conclude by focusing on individuals and organizations attempting to deal with California's environmental issues on a grass roots level. From river restoration in Los Angeles to community restoration in San Francisco, they discovered individuals who have dedicated their lives to restoring the promise of America's Promised Land.

This book is now out of print.

A Doubtful River was published by the University of Nevada Press in 2000 and was co-authored by Robert Dawson, Peter Goin and Mary Webb. The book received the Wilbur S. Shepperson Book Award from the University of Nevada Press and the Nevada Humanities Committee in Reno, Nevada. In 1994, the Library of Congress in Washington, DC purchased an entire set of 530 photographs from this project for their permanent archives.

The Truckee River, a shallow river on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, flows from Lake Tahoe to empty a hundred or so miles to the northeast into desert-bound Pyramid Lake, at the geographic and spiritual heart of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation. The Truckee, a subject to the whims of the Sierra snowpack and the Great Basin's unpredictable but always scanty rainfall, is at best "a doubtful river." Yet, like most rivers in the arid West, its waters have been oversubscribed for decades, to users as diverse as ranchers, recreationists, the burgeoning population of Reno/Sparks and their suburbs, the Paiute people, and the fish and wildlife of Pyramid Lake and the Stillwater wetlands. The book looks at the complexity of water allocation in a region where conflicting traditions about the uses of the land and its resources, a rapidly growing population, and limited supply make water the most precious commodity of all.

This book is out of print.

This book was produced by the Min Gallery in Tokyo, Japan in 1988 in conjunction with a major exhibition of Robert Dawson's photography in Tokyo. Dawson also travelied on a speaking tour to several Japanese cities including Osaka and Kyoto. The book was distributed throughout the United States by Aperture, Inc.

The content consisted of work from several projects that Dawson had finished or was working on at the time. This included work from The Mono Lake Series, The Great Central Valley Project and The Water in the West Project. It included an essay by Ellen Manchester.

This book is out of print.

Dawson, along with his wife Ellen Manchester, was founder and co-director of the Water in the West Project, a large-scale collaboration with several other photographers. His work, along with others' from the project, was published in A River Too Far: The Past and Future of the Arid West (1991) and Arid Waters: Photographs From the Water in the West Project (1992). Both books were published by the University of Nevada Press. Arid Waters was editied by Peter Goin and included text by Ellen Manchester. A large body of work from all the project members was collected by The Center For Creative Photography in Tucson as a permanent archive of the Water in the West Project.

The Project was a response to the crisis of water in the West. Members photography showed how water was not a commodity or a legal right, but the most basic source of life.

As a collaborative project, Water in the West represented a wide range of interests and concerns from agricultural practices in western Kansas to water rights on the Paiute Reservation at Pyramid Lake in Nevada.  Project members in the book included Mark Klett, Terry Evans, Laurie Brown, Peter Goin, Robert Dawson, Martin Stupich, Gregory Conniff, Wanda Hammerbeck and Ellen Manchester.

This book is in print and available through the University of Nevada Press and independent book sellers.

This book is an on-demand digitally produced mongraph entitled What We Share The Photographic Projects of Robert Dawson 1984-2008. It contains sixty images from his four current projects. These include The New Deal Legacy Project, The American Public Library Project, The Global Water Project, and The Water in the West Project. Many of these images are also reproduced on this web site.

What has inspired Dawson’s photography over several decades has been what we share. Water, libraries and the New Deal may all seem like unrelated subjects. However, each is about the shared public domain. In an increasingly privatized world what are the things we have in common? Taken together these subjects begin to define the commons of our public space.

The book was published in 2009 by Cavallo Point and Edition One Studios and is part of a series of books published by the Cavallo Point Art Program. The books are available through the bookstore at Cavallo Point which is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in Sausalito, C



Robert Dawson and Ellen Manchester are using photography to bring attention to individuals and groups that provide education, literacy and hope to Stockton and San Joaquin County -- a place with many challenges. Several local writers, poets, journalists and librarians added their words to show the unseen struggles and courage taking place in "California's Third World”-one of the least literate places in the country. This book is an on-demand digitally produced monograph available through Blurb Books to accompany a 2016 exhibition at the LH Horton, Jr. Gallery at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, CA. 



Founded in 1932, the Folger Library in Washington, D.C. is the world's largest Shakespeare collection. It hosts millions of visitors - in person and online - each year.

For two years, award-winning photographer Robert Dawson and independent curator Ellen Manchester went behind the scenes to document its diverse, lively, and sometimes surprising culture.

Provided with full access, Dawson and Manchester offer a vivid look at life and work at the Folger, from its arts, outreach, teaching, and research programs to the delicate craft of book conservation. Dawson's images also depict topics that might seem too difficult to capture - the birth of ideas, the scope of digital research, and the staff and visitors' connection with Shakespeare and his works from Macbeth to A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Along with photographs, the book also includes writer Jennifer Howard's exploration of the Folger's human side; a meditation on life, death, and the library by Stanford art historian Alexander Nemerov; and an essay by poet and playwright Afaa Michael Weaver on the many ways in which Shakespeare's works live on.

This book will be available in July, 2018.