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Is this Joseph Smith?

According to BishopThomas R. Valletta someone who does something related closely enough to the church that he has an lds.org email address confirmed in an email (to someone I don’t know but that is circling the internet) that this photo could, perhaps, maybe, possibly be the only known photo of the prophet Joseph Smith.

In his words:

It is in dispute and there is quite a controversy surrounding it. The official position of the Church History Department is “we do not know.” Its main proponent is Ron Romig the Community of Christ historian who owns it.

To me, it doesn’t look much like the paintings we have. But, then again, they are just paintings. It would be such fun if it is found to be authentic.

{ 27 comments… add one }
  • facethemusic March 13, 2008, 2:48 pm

    Hmmmm– very interesting. I had the same initial reaction– “Well, it doesn’t really look much like the paintings of him.” I always assumed that the paintings were done as portraits with him sitting there. And I also assumed they were done by those who must have been very good at capturing someone’s image onto canvas, considering how the church had all those incredible artisans working on the temples and such. It WOULD be very cool if it IS him.
    It’s a curious thing if you think about it. Why WOULDN’T there be available photographs of him, the way there were of Brigham Young, John Taylor, etc???? You’d think that there would be several. Anyone out there know anything about this?

  • Alison Moore Smith March 13, 2008, 3:17 pm

    Well, for one thing they didn’t have disposable cameras that cost 2% of an hours wage… :devil:

  • spitfire March 13, 2008, 3:37 pm

    It could be…I have several photos of ancestors who were clearly older than JS. So I wonder why there weren’t any pics….

  • Alison Moore Smith March 13, 2008, 4:45 pm

    Here are a couple of links to some possible daguerreotypes of Joseph.

    Joseph circa 1844

    Joseph and Brigham Young

  • facethemusic March 13, 2008, 7:38 pm

    So I wonder why there weren’t any pics….

    It’s strange, isn’t it? With all the newspaper articles written about him (against him) back then, with warrants for his arrest that were likely published and posted, with him being the mayor of one of the largest, most successful cities in Illinois at the time, with him running for president, etc, etc you’d think there would be several photographs of him.
    It’s kind of funny, it never dawned on me until Alison’s post that of all the pictures we have of him up to this point, none of them are photos– only paintings and sketches. I feel sort of stupid for not having noticed that before. :confused:

  • Ray March 13, 2008, 8:09 pm

    “So I wonder why there weren’t any pics….”

    Maybe he was a vampire.

  • kiar March 13, 2008, 8:41 pm

    I thought he was an alien!

  • Michelle D March 14, 2008, 9:04 am

    I can see similarities to the pictures we have of JS. The blue eyes, the nose… It’s the hair that is so much darker than we are used to seeing it.

    It is an interesting question that ftm raises about all the warrants for arrest, being mayor and pres candidate, and the newspaper articles about him… Why wouldn’t pics have survived? Even given the cost and inaccessibility of photos back then.

  • spitfire March 14, 2008, 1:01 pm

    Vampire…too funny!! One of the 3 Nephites???? Can their pic be taken?

  • blhvamos March 14, 2008, 1:35 pm

    I thought someone did a cast of his face after he was martyred and that’s how we knew what he looked like – which is how he’s portrayed in the paintings done of him.

  • facethemusic March 15, 2008, 7:21 am

    Welcome, blhvamos!! Yes, I think you’re right– that sounds familiar to me.

  • Alison Moore Smith March 15, 2008, 10:43 am

    If you check out the links above, the second one is very interesting and USES the death mask to support the claim.

    Welcome to you, blhvamos!

  • naomlette March 17, 2008, 12:59 am

    I have some news on the photo. There is a brother in my ward who was a member of the group that worked on finding out if the picture was of Joseph Smith or not. He was at the RS birthday party that we had on Friday and was telling everyone about it because it was no longer a secret. Sadly, they determined that it’s not a picture of Joseph Smith. He gave several examples as to why, but the ones I remember are that his forehead and skull are just barely too large (something like 2-4% bigger). He said that the ratio of eyes to nose, nose to chin, shoulder to elbow, elbow to hand, and head to heel all matched exactly to Joseph Smiths proportions. But they also discovered that the photographer was located in New York state during the time that Joseph Smith was in Navuoo and Carthage. They found this out when they found a known photograph of a general in the army that was taken at the same time as this photo was. The canvas backdrop lays the exact same and the chair is the same one. The photo of the general is in a collection of this photographers work (I can’t remember his name) located in New York. If I remember correctly (I could be wrong on this) the photographer hadn’t even established himself before Joseph Smith left New York state. He gave a lot of examples of how they determined this, but it was a lot of technical information, so I wasn’t able to remember a lot of it. He did say that they had used the death mask as a general example, but that the death mask was not a 100% accurate depiction of Joseph Smith’s face because it had been made a couple of days after he had died, so there was some “settling” of the features, and also that on the death mask you can’t even tell what his eyebrows looked like because one is matted from the plaster and it looks like the other one is completly gone, as it’s almost totally smooth there. Hopefully there will be an offical press release about it this week, as I’m sure that they only just determined that it wasn’t him, because this guy was telling everyone about it. His wife said that this was the first time that he has been able to talk about it. I guess they’ve been working on this for months!

  • facethemusic March 17, 2008, 2:37 pm

    Very interesting…. thanks for posting that naomlette.

  • mlinford March 18, 2008, 2:16 pm

    This also clarifies things, too:

  • naomlette March 25, 2008, 9:43 am

    I spoke with the brother in my ward again on Sunday about that photo, and asked him if they had released an official statement about it. He said that they had, but I can’t find it anywhere. But he also mentioned that there is a second picture that they are now studying. Maybe this one will be him!

  • facethemusic March 25, 2008, 1:21 pm

    Naomlette– if you don’t mind, and if you remember this coming Sunday, would you mind asking him a question for us? If he or any church historians know any reason why there HAVEN’T been any known pictures of Joseph Smith? If anywhere in Church history there’s a record of his pictures being destroyed– maybe to protect him, protect Emma, etc? It’s just seems like it can’t just be a “coincidence” that up ’till now, there have been no known photographs of someone who was repeatedly discussed in the papers, arrested, was mayor of a very large successful city, ran for president,etc– at at time when photos WERE taken of people.

  • Alison Moore Smith March 25, 2008, 5:47 pm

    There was a statement in the Church News. I’ll see if we still have it. Basically, it said, “It’s not our photo. We don’t know. Ask the (former) RLDS church.”

  • naomlette March 26, 2008, 7:25 pm

    Ah, vague press releases. Aren’t they the best? I wonder why they said it that way instead of saying straight out “We studied it (I think the Community of Christ church was involved for a bit since they do own the picture) and concluded that it was not him.” Members are going to constantly speculate about it now, IMHO. FTM, I will try and remember to ask him those questions. I would love to know the answers to them too.

  • Alison Moore Smith March 27, 2008, 5:23 pm

    Well, for one thing, the papers aren’t nearly as efficient as the net. 🙂

    Anyone see the Church News article about the Samuel Smith birthday commemoration?

  • agardner March 27, 2008, 7:40 pm

    I did see that Alison, and thought of you. He’s your Sam’s ancestor and namesake, correct? Were you involved in the commemoration?

  • naomlette April 1, 2008, 7:15 pm

    FTM, I wasn’t able to talk to him this Sunday, his family wasn’t at church. But this Thursday one of the RS groups is meeting at their house, so I will be sure to ask either him, if I see him, or ask his wife to pass the questions along.

  • naomlette April 11, 2008, 2:32 am

    Phooey, I had a nice, neat, answer written up and I pushed the wrong button! Let’s see if I can get it back. I saw Brother W. tonight at my group and so had a chance to ask him why there are no pictures of Joseph Smith. Here is what he said, as best I can remember, with some reasearch thrown in to back it up:
    We owe the name “Photography” to Sir John Herschel, who first used the term in 1839, the year the photographic process became public. The Daguerreotype process, though good, was expensive, and each picture was a once-only affair. You also had to sit very, very still for a very very long time to get your portait taken because the exposure time was so long. The daugerotypes were taken on silver or silver coated copper plates (a huge part of the expense). The length of exposure time wasn’t even able to be shortened until 1851. After that is when most people were able to get their pictures taken. The amount of equipment that had to be carried around because the development process was a “wet” process also made travel prohibitive. Any semblance to the type of film that we use now didn’t come about until 1884 (www.rleggat.com/photohistory/ is where I got most of my information on the history of photography to supplement what Brother W. said). While Joseph Smith did make a journey through New York around 1840, he did not write down that he had his picture taken, Emma didn’t write that he had his picture taken, and no one else has ever written that he had his picture taken. Getting your picture taken back then was such a big deal, because of the cost, that he definately would have. Only the wealthy and upper middle class could afford to have it done. Also, photography was really only being done on the East coast (mostly New York) and in Europe (where it was invented). It slowly made it’s way out West, but a daugerotypist didn’t arrive in Nauvoo until 2 months before Joseph Smith was killed, and didn’t advertise his services as one until 2 months after. They think the reason for the delay was either because he was waiting for his equipment to catch up with him, he had to order new equipment, or he had to build it all. Photographs/daugerotypes just were not taken as a matter of course because of political ambitions, criminal activity, or being a leader of a notorious group of people. We take photography for granted today because of how easy it is, but back then, it definately was not. Also, some people believed that photography was evil. I’m not saying that Joseph Smith did, but he may have. Here is a quote from the Leipzig City Advertiser:

    “The wish to capture evanescent reflections is not only impossible… but the mere desire alone, the will to do so, is blasphemy. God created man in His own image, and no man-made machine may fix the image of God. Is it possible that God should have abandoned His eternal principles, and allowed a Frenchman… to give to the world an invention of the Devil?”

    This was coming from Europe (not sure which country) which says to me that religious-minded America probably thought more along those lines than we realize. I hope this answers your questions. If you have any more, I will pass them on. The study of Joseph Smith’s life is this guys’ love and he knows quite a lot.

  • facethemusic April 11, 2008, 6:00 am

    Thanks for all the cool info, naomlette.

    I knew having one’s picture taken wasn’t a common everyday thing to have done– it just seemed odd since we have some of the other earliest Saints, who weren’t wealthy, either, but also weren’t mayors or presidential candidates, that it almost seemed like there had to be some sort of purposeful reason for the lack of them. Family hiding them, or something.
    Very intriguing!!

    About the religious reasons for not taking photographs, Jehovah’s Witnesses still follow that belief, in addition to the idea that it’s idol worship. (Why would you hang a photograph of yourself in your house?)

  • Tinkerbell April 11, 2008, 8:49 am

    It’s not photos of me I hang up – it’s the pictures of those adorable kids I worship . . .

  • davidson April 11, 2008, 9:30 am

    Wonder what they thought of mirrors?

  • Alison Moore Smith March 27, 2008, 9:10 pm

    Yes and yes. We actually got to sit on the stand in the tabernacle because Sam’s a board member. Haven’t been on the stand since I sang in General Conference when I was in Primary. (The last ever June conference, btw.)

    Anyway, it was great, but I was terrified that one of the little guys would freak out while I was in absentia. Amazingly, they made it through but Caleb did “sing” very loudly and yelled something at the end like, “Is it OVEEERRR?” Have to ask my older kids. But we couldn’t hear it up on the stand, so I survived.

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