Joseph Stetson Rogers was a native of the State of Maine, possibly a son of Thomas and Elizabeth (Stetson) Rogers of Eastport. He arrived in Halifax sometime before September 1851 when, describing himself as a merchant, he married Miss Margaret Hanna Martin at Brunswick Street Methodist Church. Two years later, in 1853, he opened a hat, cap and fur business at 15 Duke Street in downtown Halifax, but the venture was not a success and in November 1855 he assigned all his business and personal estate to one Samuel Story, in order to pay off his debts.
Sometime after 1861 Rogers turned his hand to photography; he may have apprenticed with Isaac Parish, a fellow American who then operated the International Gallery in Halifax. In May 1863 Rogers opened his own studio, The People's Gallery, at 189-191 Barrington Street, advertising it as a branch of the International.
Photography was still a relatively new technology, but Rogers' studio was at least the eighteenth to operate in the city, joining a well-established tradition dating back to 1842 and William Valentine, Halifax's first known professional photographer. The People's Gallery continued on Barrington Street until Rogers' retirement in April 1874, an event which may have been precipitated by intense competition — there were at least ten other photographers working locally that year — or by his wife's death the previous December.
Rogers turned over his negatives to fellow photographer W.D. O'Donnell at 238 Barrington Street, disposed of his gallery and good will to another photographer, Charles G. Mitchell, and moved back to Maine. In 1875, he married Sarah O. Leighton (a widow) at Eastport, took up farming, and added at least two more children to the family of three who had been born in Halifax. He died in Augusta, Maine, on 4 March 1887, of paralysis, aged 58.The Halifax Reporter 03 July 1863
Rogers' photographic archive at one time consisted of over seven thousand negatives; of these, less than three hundred have survived. What remains is wonderfully rich–early views of Halifax, its public buildings and private residences; views of outlying areas such as Prince's Lodge, Melville Island, the North West Arm and Tufts Cove (Dartmouth); scenes from around Nova Scotia, including Windsor, Wolfville, Grand Pré and along the route of the Windsor and Annapolis Railway; and some of the earliest known photographic images of Nova Scotia's Mi'kmaq Indians. The largest collection of Rogers' work is held by Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management (Halifax, NS), with smaller accumulations at the Nova Scotia Museum (Halifax, NS) and the Sherman Hines Museum of Photography (Liverpool, NS).