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Community of Christ Apostle Explains Why He’s Convinced the Joseph Smith Photo is for Real

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On the latest episode of Mormon Land, a podcast from The Salt Lake Tribune, Lachlan Mackay sat down to answer questions about the recent daguerreotype purported to be of Joseph Smith and why he’s convinced it’s really of the prophet.

Lachlan Mackay | cofchrist.org

Mackay, an apostle for the Community of Christ who directs the church’s historic sites in Nauvoo, Illinois, sat down with senior religion writer Peggy Fletcher Stack and managing editor Dave Noyce. Just like many in the public, Mackay admitted that he didn’t think the daguerreotype was of Joseph when he first looked at it.

“I’m skeptical by nature and when I first glanced at it, I’m so imprinted on the portrait like everybody else, I didn’t immediately see it,” Mackay said. “But once we started looking not at the overall impression but individual features and more importantly starting to do objective analysis plus subjective analysis, then started throwing in the provenance and all of the other historical research, for me, it just kind of slowly built. I don’t know that there was any one ‘a ha’ moment for me, but I got to the place where I’m convinced.”

A photograph of Emma Josepha Smith, Joseph Smith III’s daughter, wearing a locket similar to the one discovered. It is theorized to be the same locket that contained the photograph of Joseph Smith. | familysearch.org

Mackay goes on to discuss the many processes historians used to authenticate the daguerreotype, including facial recognition software, a forensics artist, and an in-depth study into the damage done to Joseph’s desk mask. Other topics include potential theories on how the locket may have been passed through the Smith family and why portraits can’t always be trusted as accurate portrayals of historic features.

The daguerreotype in question. | Dan Larsen

On July 21, 2022, Mackay and Daniel Larsen, great-great-grandson of Joseph Smith and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, released an article in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of the John Whitmer Historical Association Journal claiming to have discovered a daguerreotype of the martyred prophet. The news gained international attention and started debates about the daguerreotype’s authenticity. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released the following statement regarding the discovery:

“Every few years, potential donors bring artifacts to the Church History Library for review, including alleged photographs of the prophet Joseph Smith. Such artifacts are, of course, of great interest to the church. Though it was not mentioned specifically in the article, church historians, archivists and artifact experts were provided — by the item’s owner and the article’s authors — the opportunity to analyze the locket and photo and to review their findings prior to publication. 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.” 

You can listen to the entire podcast online here or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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Aleah Ingram
Aleah Ingram
Aleah is a graduate of Southern Virginia University, where she studied English, Creative Writing, and Dance. She now works full time as a marketing and product manager, writer, and editor. Aleah served a mission in California and loves baking, Lang Leav poetry, Gaynor Minden pointe shoes, and Bollywood movies.

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