Dawson received his B.A. degree from the University of California at Santa Cruz and M.A. degree from San Francisco State University. Currently he is an instructor of photography at both San Jose State University and Stanford University. Over the last twenty years, Dawson has been involved in five major photographic projects, which began with the Mono Lake Series in 1979. Dawson has been the recipient of a Visual Artists Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Ruttenberg Fellowship from The Friends of Photography, a Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University and several other major grants, fellowships and awards. His works are in the permanent collections of such notable museums as the Museum of Modern Art, the Library of Congress, the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Museum, The Center for Creative Photography and the Bibliotheque Nationale, Cabinet des Estampes.