J. J. Heilmann made his living as a photographer, publisher, and printer in Pau, a town in southern France near the northern border of the Pyrenees. Most of his work was produced between 1852-57. He mostly used rapid collodion plates but also made calotypes and ivory types of considerable sophistication and very rarely made salt prints. In 1853 he developed a mechanism for enlarging negatives.
A founding member of the Société française de photographie, Heilmann was also affiliated with the Photographic Club of Great Britain. He exhibited his work at the 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris.