Though many images have been circulated purporting to be photographs of Joseph Smith, almost all of them share the common trait of having no prior identification attached to the photo; to many Joseph Smith enthusiasts the case has essentially been this: if it’s an old daguerreotype and it doesn’t have a name on it, it could be Joseph Smith. But that is not the case with one particular image claiming to be of the prophet.
Thanks to the many years of research compiled by Reed Simonsen, a particular daguerreotype (or perhaps an ambrotype) has been brought to light that, unlike all other photographs, is identified positively as being that of Joseph Smith. The record of such is held at the Library of Congress as submitted by Joseph Smith III, the son of the prophet Joseph Smith (Jr.), who was 11 years old when his father died. A painting based on this photo was even considered by Joseph Smith III to be “sustained in its characteristic likeness to my father by the daguerreotype in our possession, taken…, I think [1843,] by an artist by the name of Lucian Foster.” by which ‘daguerreotype’ he made reference to the image above.
Simonsen’s website, photographfound.com, is worth reading over for anyone interested in the history and research behind this particular photo. Suffice it to say for our purposes that the photo is authentic. Below is a summary of some major points to bear in mind, however, as we continue to ponder what Joseph Smith really looked like. The graphics are reproduced from the author’s website, photographfound.com.
The qualities of the image that betray its photographic nature are important to note: shallow depth of field, differential dilation of the pupils, etc. However, there are several aspects of the image that seem quite un-photographic in quality: the poorly cropped background that sets his hair (or pompadour) in a strange silhouette, the unusual setting of his lips, the apparent profound largeness of his chin, or even the unusual narrowness of his jawline produced by the collar of his shirt, etc.
As will be discussed in a couple pages, there are explainable phenomenon at work here.
What’s important to note is how this image compares to the death mask cast from Joseph’s face.