Famed photographer Dabirma Still MacLean and early Petaluma farms

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When Dabirma Still was born in San Luis Obispo in 1875, photography was just coming into its own. Growing up on a secluded ranch, she learned a deep appreciation for the beauty of rural California. When she was 15, she set out to buy her own box camera, which she paid for by selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door. Her early work almost exclusively featured the natural world, from wildflowers to sweeping landscapes. By the time she married her husband, John MacLean, in 1904, she had already made a name for herself as a budding talent in the field of photography. As a wedding present, she received a folding Kodak camera, which allowed her to create postcard-sized prints of her work. She pioneered a new technique in tinting the prints with watercolor paints, which she sold at local shops. In 1908, the MacLeans moved to Petaluma, where John became a chicken farmer. Dabirma spent hours traveling the rural roads, photographing some of the earliest farm scenes ever captured in Petaluma. She also shot dozens of photos of homes, street scenes, area recreation and new developments, many of which are hanging in local museums today. She became known regionally as the “First Lady of Photography” and is today considered the most prolific female photographers of the early 20th century in California. In 1920, she and her husband moved back to Southern California, where she lived until her death in 1968.

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