Born in Flensburg, Germany on December 30, 1805, little is known about Carl Ferdinand Stelzner's early life except that he was adopted by painter Carl Gottlob Stelzner and would later marry the senior Stelzner's daughter Caroline. He, too, would become a painter after studying with Parisian master Jean-Baptiste Isabey, with his specialty being miniatures. After their marriage in 1834, the Stelzners settled in Hamburg, both enjoying great success as miniaturists and portraitists.
However, by 1842, Mr. Stelzner became fascinated with the daguerreotype process and ceased painting altogether. Again, he collaborated closely with his wife, and she would either paint backgrounds or apply tints to his plates. After developing a friendship with fellow daguerreotypist Hermann Biow, the two opened a studio and established themselves as among the earliest news photographers. While their hometown Hamburg burned from May 5th until May 8th 1842, Biow & Stelzner were there to chronicle the damage in a series of devastating images. Mr. Stelzner applied his skills as a miniaturist to his daguerreotypes, displaying an innate understanding of how to capture a particular image in a manner that demonstrated the timely and aesthetic qualities of photography. Interestingly, the British publication Illustrated London News was forced to rely upon an imaginary view of the inferno, using an old Hamburg print, in their media coverage because they were unaware of the existence of original photographs. Sadly, only three of the Biow & Stelzner daguerreotypes still exist.
For reasons unknown, Mr. Stelzner's partnership with Mr. Biow was short-lived, and their studio closed in 1843. He opened his own portrait studio that specialized in individual and group portraits. Mrs. Stelzner was her husband's favorite model, and he frequently made daguerreotypes that celebrated the increasing independence of the Victorian woman by emphasizing their artistic inclinations. He quickly became the most sought-after portrait photographer in Germany, but sadly by the early 1850s, Mr. Stelzner began losing his eyesight. Although many of his studio's business operations had to be handled by a sighted employee, Mr. Stelzner's creative vision continued to guide the photographic output. Sadly, by 1858, the now completely blind Carl Ferdinand Stelzner was forced to sell his studio to Braunschweig daguerreotypist Oskar H. Fielitz. Mr. Stelzner died in Hamburg on October 23, 1894 at the age of 88. Though virtually forgotten outside of his native Germany, Carl Ferdinand Stelzner deserves to be remembered for his important contributions to the fledgling news photography genre.
1986 A Concise History of Photography (Don Mills, Ontario, Canada: General Publishing Company, Ltd.), p. 38.
1962 Creative Photography: Aesthetic Trends, 1839-1960 (Don Mills, Ontario, Canada: General Publishing Company, Ltd.), p. 245.
2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), p. 1337.
2012 German History in Modern Times: Four Lives of the Nation (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press), p. 175.
2013 Luminous Lint for Connoisseurs of Fine Photography: Carl Ferdinand Stelzner (URL: http://www.luminous-lint.com/app/image/3795185903724331121694803265).
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