Joel Emmons Whitney (1822-1886) was a multi-talented American artist known for his work as a Minnesota daguerreotypist, ambrotypist, photographer, lithographer, engraver, and publisher.
Whitney's career began under the tutelage of Alexander Hesler, the pioneer daguerreotypist of Galena, Illinois, in the summer of 1851. By November of that year, Whitney had opened his own establishment in St. Paul in the Gothic Building at the corner of Third and Cedar. Hesler returned to Minnesota in 1852, where the two again worked together, on a series of landscapes.
Charles A. Zimmerman went to work for Whitney around 1857 or '58; Zimmerman would go on to become Whitney's partner in the gallery.
Whitney was very active during the Civil War and the Dakota War of 1862, producing images of Minnesota volunteers and Sioux tribe members before and after the conflict in the Minnesota River Valley. Perhaps the most significant image he produced during this time was not his photograph but that of Adrian John Ebell. It is speculated that Ebell traded his famous "People escaping from the Indian massacre of 1862, at Dinner on a Prairie. Photographed by one of the party." to Whitney to settle a debt over photographic chemicals. Ebell had incurred that debt while on his way through St. Paul to western Minnesota. That image remains one of the most iconic photographs from the Plains Wars.
Later in life, Whitney built a sizable fortune investing in St. Paul real estate and businesses. He lost much of his money speculating in paper towns. He sold his interest in the gallery to Zimmerman on April 2, 1871, because of declining health. And moved to Atlanta that year, and Chattanooga in 1873. He returned to St. Paul in 1880, going into the grocery business, but again retiring for poor health. He died on January 20, 1886.