John Hermann Heering was born in 1816 in Prussia. He arrived in the United States as a young man, first living in Louisiana before setting up permanent roots in California. For a time, he worked as a miner in Mariposa County, and on August 22, 1855, he became a naturalized American citizen. An interest in photography led to a significant career change, and by 1859, he was operating his own Eagle Gallery in Healdsburg. According to an advertisement in the Sonoma Press Democrat, his newly renovated gallery featured melainotypes, ambrotypes, and, "All other types of Pictures," along with the latest photographic equipment. He also became a publisher, most notably publishing the Pacific stereographs of artist and railroad photographer Alfred A. Hart.
In May 1859, he relocated to San Jose. This became an important professional turning point. After establishing a gallery on East Santa Clara Street above the City Market, Mr. Heering confidently announced, "I am prepared to take Likenesses in every size, upon Steel, Glass, Leather, Linen, Oil Cloth, Paper, etc.... I profess to understand the peculiar method necessary to be followed in putting up Pictures, to ensure a permanent and unfading clearness, and depth of outline and expression, for all times and under all circumstances." By November of the following year, his business had grown sufficiently to warrant expansion to the Bella Union building on West Santa Clara Street. However, he soon after became embroiled in a controversy with fellow photographer (and leading competitor) James A. Clayton over photographic premiums awarded at the California State Fair. In response to Mr. Clayton's advertisements in which he bragged about his premiums, Mr. Heering countered by alleging his submissions had been finished by one of his workers while others were sent to San Francisco for oil coloring. Heering boasted that his impressive skills in watercolors, India ink, and crayon did not require his works to be retouched by anyone else. This heated advertising war raged for three years before finally being extinguished.
On June 19, 1863, Mr. Heering's City Market studio was badly damaged in a fire. However, by November of that year, he opened a "New Daguerrean Gallery" located on the second floor of the New Brick Building that occupied the corner of First and El Dorado Streets. Situated above the El Dorado Saloon, Mr. Heering found the perfect location to take photographs of a cross-section of local residents. His cartes de visites of the townspeople were particularly popular. Skylights were installed on the roof to optimize lighting, but more than one customer was known to complain about the long, steep flights of stairs leading up to his studio. However, the artistic portraits they received afterwards proved to be well worth the challenging climbs. From 1867 until 1871, Mr. Heering was San Jose’s most prosperous photographer, offering personally retouched portraits, cards (plain and enamel), and a fully stocked inventory of rare cameras and photographic supplies. J. H. Heering died on April 16, 1873, and in an obituary published in the San Jose Daily Patriot, he was described as "a photographer of very great skill," who "will be long remembered, not only as an artist, but for his many intrinsic virtues."
2014 El Dorado St. 1869 (URL: http://www.sanjose.com/underbelly/unbelly/Sanjose/dorado/dorado5.html).
2000 Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press), p. 287.
1977 Santa Clara Valley: Images of the Past (San Jose, CA: San Jose Historical Museum), p. 24.
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