12 Comments

  1. I think the esteem-ed Bagley is in error about Joseph recording that he had a photo taken. I’m pretty sure there is no record of that.

  2. A reader asked,

    I’m a bit puzzled at this new photo from the book of Joseph Smith. Does the book itself claim that the photo is of Joseph smith? Does the photo the guy found that came out of “New York” say anything on it that says “Joseph Smith”? What is it that leads anyone to suppose that this partuclar photo is of Joseph Smith?

    Thanks for your questions. There is nothing as of yet that confirms that this might be a photo of Joseph Smith. Nothing in the book says that it is (it only says it is of an anonymous person). There is no marking on the photo (that we know of), that mentions who it might be. The only evidence that suggests that it might be Joseph is:

    * Joseph Smith, or his son Joseph Smith III, may have mentioned that a daguerreotype photo was taken of Joseph near the end of his life. Such a daguerreotype has never been found.

    * The daguerreotype is said to have come out of New York in 1845, and went to Brazil, which is shortly after the death of Joseph, and which could explain why it has been lost.

    * The last thing is, considering what the death mask and artwork that has depicted Joseph, this daguerreotype looks very much how we might imagine Joseph looking like, with all the features of his description mentioned above.

    It is a stretch, but I’m willing to give it the possibility. The evidence is very slim, right now, but I’m keeping my hopes up. We are taught to “doubt not, but be believing” (Mormon 9:27).

  3. Point well taken. I think that there’s a very slim possibility that it is Joseph, given the evidence. What interested me the most about this daguerreotype was how closely it resembles the artwork and other extant depictions of Joseph, not that it might actually be him, but especially in light of the “other” daguerreotype that’s been floating around, which looks nothing like him at all. If it is not Joseph, then this man resembled him closely.

  4. Here’s some more information (with references):

    We have no direct evidence that Joseph Smith was ever photographed. It would have been possible for him to have obtained a daguerreotype of himself, since the art was practiced in Philadelphia when he visited there in 1839. In 1844 a daguerreotype studio was established in Nauvoo. Lucian R. Foster first advertised in the Nauvoo Neighbor just forty-eight days after the martyrdom, but it is not known whether his studio had been established prior to the Prophet’s death. (Hatch, Joseph Smith Portraits, 57)

    There are daguerreotypes extant, but they are most likely copies of an RLDS oil painting, and not of the prophet from life.

    The Library of Congress also has several photographs of Joseph Smith on file. Information with the Library of Congress photographs asserts that they are retouched photographs of a daguerreotype taken of the Prophet in 1842 or 1843. (Hatch, Joseph Smith Portraits, 57)

    Reed Simonsen and Chad Fugate have recently proposed that a retouched daguerreotype copy (fig. 7.10), recorded [in 1879] in the Library of Congress by W. B. Carson of Piano, Illinois, at the request of Joseph Smith III, is of the Prophet Joseph Smith taken when he was alive and is the most correct visual image we have of him. They maintain that the original daguerreotype from which the Carson retouched copy was made is lost…. I have concluded that the RLDS daguerreotype (fig. 7.1), which is central to this discussion, is the original from which the W. B. Carson image was photographed, as it is also the original from which the Charles W. Carter image (fig. 7.5) was made. It, in turn, is a photograph of the RLDS painting (fig. 6.22) located in Independence, Missouri. It follows that the original RLDS daguerreotype of the painting, and all retouched photographic copies of it, are derived from the RLDS oil painting and reproduce its inaccuracies. (Hatch, Joseph Smith Portraits, 63-65)

    Hatch’s analysis of the existing daguerreotypes of Joseph Smith concludes that all of them are copies of the RLDS oil painting. So, if there was a daguerreotype made directly of the prophet in life, which we don’t have direct evidence for but would have been possible given the availability of the technology at the time, it hasn’t been found yet.

  5. For some reason, interest piqued today regarding daguerreotypes of the Prophet.

    From my research, it’s evident that Lucien Foster was in Nauvoo three months before Joseph’s martyrdom. Foster himself was from New York, and brought with him all the necessary equipment to begin a studio, of which, as you mentioned via the reference to Hatch, he first advertised after the Prophet’s death. What your reference to Hatch does not indicate though, is the words of the advertisement. Some of Foster’s daguerreotypes were presented at his gallery, as well as at the Smith Mansion. The theory is that the d-types at the Smith Mansion were owned by the Smiths.

    Smith’s journal records he met with an L.R. Foster of New York on April 29, 1944.

    There’s also evidence that Smith had Foster leading his presidential campaign in 1844. This is interesting, because Foster was young and the face behind a revolutionary movement (photography), in Nauvoo. Photographs of the presidential-candidate hopeful would be great tools during the campaign. Of course, that’s hypothetical.

    My biggest problem with Hatch’s analysis is that the image filed in the Library of Congress (LOC) is a copy of the RLDS painting. A great resource for information regarding photos of the Prophet is located at http://www.photographfound.com. Reed Simonsen, the author of the book (which he published on the site after printing ceased), argues that the LOC image is a copy of the actual d-type taken by Foster in 1844. The reasoning for this lies in the true nature of photography, even d-type at it’s stage of development in 1844—That is, pictures don’t lie. Physical abnormalities are present in the LOC image that are not present in the RLDS painting. Mainly, scares, misshapen cheeks, field-of-depth perspective, and the asymmetry of the human face.

    Each of the aforementioned discrepancies are eliminated in the RLDS image, yet it still bears striking resemblance to the LOC image. Scars on the left side of the Prophets face, above his lip and eyebrow, are not present in the RLDS painting. The cheeks are aligned, but not in the LOC image.

    Field-of-depth perspective is crucial. Depth-of-field is the resulting “out-of-focus” look when an object lies outside of the plane of focus. Artists tend to ignore this in paintings, and bring everything (at least within a reasonable distance of the subject) into focus.

    With that said, close examination of the LOC image reveals a very shallow depth-of-field focused on the eyes. There is a button present on the Prophet’s jacket over his left breast, which is out-of-focus in the LOC image. The RLDS painting has this button in focus. Upon further examination, details within the eyes are present.

    Evidence suggests the inverse to Hatch’s argument, that is, that the RLDS painting was made from the LOC image. Painters often eliminated these physical abnormalities to make the subject more handsome and dignified.

    The evidence of “retouching” the original d-type the LOC image is taken from is easily explained. The LOC image shows a very-stark white background. This was common on d-types in the early 1940s (with the technology only being invented in 1939), in that details in white elements were often lost. The photographer did not bother with the background, but felt it necessary to retouch the area below the Prophet’s head, around his cravat, tracing the lines of the cravat, darkening the suit, and a few other details. Again, this was a common practice in the early days of d-type (and heck, we still do it with Photoshop to this day).

    Even a litmus test of the LOC image against the death mask reveal striking similarities. The only major difference is the elongation of the face in the death mask. This, as Simonsen explains, resulted in the historical fact that the Prophet fell from the window onto his face, most definitely resulting in facial injuries, and quite possibly fractures. Testimonies also state the Prophet was hit in the face after the fall as well, most likely causing more damage. This facial damage caused elongating of the cheeks, as well a separated mandible. Exhumation of the Prophet in 1928 revealed a heavily damaged skull, with most of the facial bone missing. Why? Because it never healed and fell away from the rest of skull as it decomposed. This medical evidence proves the difference between the death mask and the LOC image.

    So, Hatch has it backwards. The image in the LOC is a copy of the original d-type, which was used for the RLDS painting. The LOC image is the most accurate depiction of the Prophet.

    Regarding the most recent d-type proposed to be the Prophet (the first image in your post), I’ve not heard of evidence either way. You don’t mention a possible date this was taken, as I recollect. Given that d-types weren’t invented until 1939, that leaves a very short timeframe for the Prophet to be before a camera to have one, and he appears younger that I would imagine he was in 1844.

    Also, Will Bagley’s note that Joseph mentioned sitting for photograph seems sketchy, as I’ve not seen it anywhere. There is testimony from Joseph Smith, III that his father sat for a photographer, as he recalled for one Brother Foster, in 1844. That may be what Bagley alludes to.

    I apologize for the length of this comment. It’s all very interesting.

  6. Kenneth

    I recall reading in James E. Talmage’s “House of the Lord” that a photograph of the Prophet Joseph Smith was included in the Items that were placed in the capstone or ball at the feet of the angel Moroni statue of the Salt Lake Temple.

  7. Indeed, it does say that:

    The topstone and the granite block upon which it immediately rests form a sphere. Within the lower half a cavity had been prepared; and in this were placed certain books and other articles, so that, as the capstone was laid, it formed a secure and massive lid to this stone receptacle. The stone contains a copy of the Holy Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Voice of Warning, Spencer’s Letters, Key to Theology, Hymn Book, Compendium, Pearl of Great Price, and some other books; also photographs of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, George Q. Cannon, and Joseph F. Smith, a photograph of the Temple as it appeared at the time; and, in addition, an engraved tablet of copper setting forth the principal dates in the history of the building and bearing the names of the general authorities of the Church as they stood April 6, 1853, and as constituted at the time of the capstone ceremony, April 6, 1892.

    Later in the day, the top-stone was surmounted by the great statue—a figure intended to represent Moroni, the heavenly messenger who ministered to the youthful prophet, Joseph Smith, in 1823. The figure, over twelve feet in height, is of copper heavily gilded. It is in the form of a herald with a trumpet at his lips. (Pages 151, 152)

    I wonder if the capstone has ever been opened.

  8. Steve Pogue

    If the man in that daguerrotype is not Joseph Smith, there is an amazing resemblance to what we all suppose him to look like. Show that photo to 10,000 long-time LDS, and 10,000 will say it is Joseph Smith.

  9. Vincent

    A couple of years or so ago I saw a photo that purported to be of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young at the Castle Dale, Utah Daughters of the Pioneers Museum. I believe it was a photo of a photo. Some dirtbag had fired a bullet or two through the original photo. I really wish I had taken a photograph of it, because when I went back a year or so later, it was no longer there. The docent didn’t know anything about it and said it must have been on loan and been returned. It really looked like a fairly young Brigham Young and Joseph Smith.

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