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The Joseph Smith Daguerreotype

BYU-Idaho Radio · The Joseph Smith Daguerreotype

Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have wondered what the Prophet Joseph Smith really looked like, and now we might not have to wonder. Born in 1805, there has been no known photo of the first prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ, perhaps until now.  

Joseph Smith’s great, great grandson, Daniel Larsen, discovered a photograph he believes to be of Joseph Smith. Larsen made the discovery two years ago while going through some family heirlooms he inherited in 1992.  

He came upon a locket that appeared to be sealed shut. The mechanism to open the locket was broken, so when Larsen first saw the locket, he put it away for 28 years.  

In 2020, Larsen went through the heirlooms again, and this time managed to open the locket. Inside was a daguerreotype, or photograph, of a man who appeared to be from the 1840s.  

Larsen shared the image with his nephew and apostle for the Community of Christ, Lachlan Mackay, who initially was skeptical.  

“My initial reaction was, ‘That’s not Joseph,’ because I’m so imprinted on the oil portrait as many people are,” Mackay said.  

Mackay worked with different companies to analyze the daguerreotype. They used facial recognition software, and forensic artists used cutaways, transparent overlays and feature tracing to compare the photo to the oil painting Smith sat for in 1842.  

Throughout the process, Mackay’s opinion shifted.  

“I’m convinced, and the folks that I know who have spent time researching are convinced,” Mackay said.  

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a response to the daguerreotype saying, “We concur that the daguerreotype and locket were created of the materials and methods appropriate to the 1840s. However, as nothing is definitively known about the locket’s history before 1992, we cannot draw a conclusion about who is pictured in the daguerreotype. We welcome the recent publication of the image and hope it will prompt the discovery of additional information helpful to determining its authenticity.” 

If the daguerreotype really is of Joseph Smith, millions will finally be able to look into the eyes of the prophet of the restoration.  

“I really like the image because he looks real. He looks human,” Mackay said, “And I think it suggests to me that God can work through anyone.” 

The research is ongoing. You can read more about the daguerreotype at the John Whitmer Historical Association and at Deseret News