The Problem


    The correct physical appearance of the Prophet Joseph Smith has been a topic of research for almost a century.  Numerous approaches -- many very clever -- have been used to try and better visualize this great leader.  Over the years so many interpretations of his likeness have been thrust upon the public that no one really knows what he looked like.  As one well known LDS artist wrote:  "This is a fascinating subject and I'd give anything to look into a time machine for a few minutes and actually see the man.  He wouldn't look much like our current image of him."

    While some physical evidence remains from the Prophet's life, namely: a death mask, some crude "shadow-art" and a few exhumation photographs, artists using the same artifacts differ in opinion as to how to use them.  Thus, from similar sources, come many different views, each with claims of authenticity.  (see Fig. 1)  Such confusion would be dispelled if Joseph Smith had been photographed.

    We believe that Joseph was indeed photographed and that a copy of this original image still survives.  The purpose of this research is to present evidence of this, in the form of expert testimony from a variety of professional disciplines coupled with historical fact.  It should be noted that many scholars may be familiar with parts of this argument.  We ask that you bear with us as this history is laid down.  It is essential, for the comprehension of the argument, that the information be read in order, as well as in its entirety.

Fig. 1: Four interpretations of the Prophet’s appearance using the death mask as a guide.  Artists left to right - Theodore Gorka, Dee Jay Bowden, William Whitaker and Louis Ramsey.