Book Review: Shall Millions Now Know Brother Joseph Again? (Part 4-FIN)

By May 2, 2008

Entering chapter 9, I was expecting some level of technical analysis that would be beyond my comprehension but still accessible enough that I could form an opinion of my own, perhaps that was a mistake on my part. Opposite chapter 9’s first page are pictured nine proposed daguerreotypes. I remembered Ardis’ description of a foot-longish file of proposed Joseph Smith photos and immediately wondered why these specific daguerreotypes were chosen for consideration. One of these images even has a beard! Again, being that there is no stated criteria for consideration, it seems that the author alone knows why these images were included for consideration. This opens up the possibility that the author is constructing a series of straw man arguments. Interestingly, Tracy decides that since none of the photos has provenance linking it to the prophet, he will use the 5 benchmarks mentioned at the end of part 3 of this review and “assume each image is Joseph until proven otherwise” (p. 159). I was left to wonder how it is possible to look at these nine very different people and begin with the assumption that they are the same person. It seems that the opposite should be the starting place.

Tracy first considers three daguerreotypes together as they appear to be based from the same image. This is the set of daguerreotypes easily recognized as the daguerreotypes of that famous RLDS painting of Joseph Smith. Tracy does provide a helpful summary of how these images are connected and begins to apply the 5 benchmarks. One puzzling approach on page 168 shows the death mask and the Carson daguerreotype side by side with about two dozen colored dots at different points on each image. The caption explained that this is a “Facial Dot comparison method used by Forensic Scientists in Facial Recognition Programs.” It briefly explains that points are assigned to different points on the face and compared to see if there is a correlation. This is the only explanation in the entire book about these colored dots and what they mean. There is nothing to indicate what facial landmarks are or why these specific landmarks are the proper ones to use. There is also not any criteria given for what constitutes a match or no match. The author shows us the dots, and states simply that this Carson daguerreotype “does not match the death mask close enough to give a possible match” (p. 168). Later (p. 214) Tracy does bring up “Facial Recognition Software” again, describing that “only with great effort, miles of lines of code, and thousands of dollars of equipment” can this software be made to work. There is still, however, no further mention of the dots and how they are used in such a study.

These side by side comparisons of dots are performed for each image, but subsequent images (p. 188, 197, and 202) don’t have any caption whatsoever to help the reader understand what the differences are. The set on 174 (the bearded “Joseph”) has a caption that explains that the size of the mouth, nose and eyes are “off” but doesn’t explain what “off” means. Tracy also performs the line test where a straight line is drawn from one image to the other to determine similarities and credits Ephraim Hatch for its use before in Hatch’s book. Ultimately the scope of analysis of each image varies. The Carson image gets a lot of attention, the bearded Joseph gets very little (not surprisingly). Each evaluation ends with a 5 point summary evaluation, usually consisting of one or two lines.

For example, there is one would-be Abraham Lincoln image that Tracy examines. Under clothing style, Tracy writes that though the clothing can be considered 1840s era, they are probably from the late 40s after Joseph died. The basis for this evaluation is that the collar is turned down just a tad, which, according to Tracy, “was more popular in the later years of that decade” (182). Given that the original exploration of 40s era clothing in chapter 6 consisted of solely one paragraph of unattributed information that dealt generally with the 40s, not specifically with the early 40s, I have trouble understanding what basis the author is using to draw his conclusions, and how the reader is expected to do any sort of personal evaluation aside from choosing either to believe or disbelieve the author’s interpretation. I don’t believe the author is just making things up here or in other places, I just don’t believe that, but the book does a poor job in communicating to the reader what seems to be certain in the author’s mind. This is not necessarily uncommon, which is why things like peer review by less involved individuals is important. I think that had (I’m guessing it was not) this book been passed around other than internally before going to press, then many of these difficulties might have been smoothed out and the reader provided with a more coherent study.

Another image that is examined is this image, which you yourself can own today.

Aside from the clothing analysis of the Lincoln-like image, under Written Descriptions, Tracy notes generally that the image could pass “most of the verbal descriptions of Joseph Smith, except for the rounding or sloping shoulders” (p. 182). Again, there is no standardized or detailed rationale for how the written descriptions are applied and what constitutes “passing” the descriptions.

Under Primary Portraits, the author notes simply that, “The image does not compare well to the primary portraits” (p. 182). Under Family Characteristics, he notes that “This study is subject to the viewer’s eye.” But that “we” conclude that “the image does not seem to have very similar traits that were passed on to his sons” (p. 182).

Finally, in Anatomical Evidences, Tracy says without elaboration that “The image does not match the anatomical evidence in the jaw area” (182). The only mentioning before this conclusion of the jaw is written by a line comparison of this image and the death mask and states simply that Joseph had a more prominent jaw. Could it be that the rest of Joseph’s features match well to this unknown figure, but only the jaw is off? Again, there’s no way for the reader to evaluate these claims given that the basis for the evaluation is known only to the author.

Tracy, interestingly, produces another Lincoln-ish image that can be found at and connects its identification with Joseph Smith to a blog post by Nate Oman, where some drive by blogger touts it as a “REAL” photo of Joseph Smith. Unfortunately the link provided in the source note is wrong and takes you to a different Nate Oman post which can be viewed here. [The post referred to can be found here, courtesy of Christopher.]

Should I go on? I’ve got a few pages more to go…I haven’t even gotten to the Scannel image discussion…You know what? Just a few more points on this and then I’m going to leave it alone. Back to the subject of straw men, again and again the author mentions criticisms by unnamed, uncited sources regarding the clothing, the physical characteristics, and other aspects of the Scannel daguerreotype and other aspects of his work in earlier chapters. He then takes his hand at disarming those criticisms. I suspect that in chapter 9 the author spends a substantial amount of time analyzing the Carson et al daguerreotypes and goes through special lengths to dismiss these because of the forensic claims of those that are supporters of these images as authentic. These are the same individuals mentioned before that advocate the fractured face thesis mentioned earlier. If Tracy can disprove the fruit of their labor, then he can disarm their forensic argument as well. The rest of the images get only scant and quick dismissal.

Then we get to the Scannel daguerreotype. The analysis proceeds in a similar fashion, only this time the 5 benchmarks are met. Again, the explanations are swift. For Clothing Styles, Scannel passes with a curt, “The clothing style does match the 1840s styles” (204). Whereas the earlier Lincoln image was also found to be 40s style, it was dismissed because it was apparently late 40s style. Here, Scannel gets a free pass without any indication as to why this 40s style is workable. Having finally arrived at an image that matches the 5 author proscribed benchmarks (benchmarks is my word, by the way), a full chapter is launched to examine Scannel more in depth.

Here the author brings out new analytical tools that had not been applied before. For example, he proposes to “do an examination of a 3-D object through the viewpoint of a 2-D picture representing that viewpoint. To do a good test with the death masks we would need to try to get the viewpoint as close as possible to what is being seen from the photograph…” So, instead of apply this seemingly advanced technique to get perspectives correct and do a “good” test with the death masks and compare that to all the other images, this is saved for the book’s face-sake. I can come to one of two conclusions. Either all along the author never intended to give a fair shake to the rest of the images, or the author actually did perform the same analyses, but perhaps because of space and time constraints, he omitted these studies. If the latter is the case, then that needs to be communicated to the reader clearly so that it doesn’t look like the former. Again, I think I’m giving something of the benefit of the doubt to the author.

In writing this review I recognize my own limitations in forensic knowledge. Even so, I have to wonder at a few things. On page 218 the skull and death mask are superimposed on the Scannel image. At the bottom left, the skull’s jaw looks entirely too square and seems to exceed the boundaries of the face. However, if you look to the image next to it, it appears that this squareness has been retouched and smoothed out so as to conform with the face’s boundaries. Perhaps there is a good explanation for that. If there is, then the reader needs to know about it.

Let me summarize here. The book is pretty and has a lot of interesting pieces of information that are otherwise hard to get. Examples are the pictures of the skulls of Joseph and Hyrum and Tracy’s analysis about their misidentification. You no longer have to pay in excess of $150 for a copy of his first book to get this information. That’s a plus. Also handy is his description of the manner of their burial and exhumation. He provides helpful summaries of the history of a number of Joseph Smith images and provides little gems of research from diaries and other obscure sources about Joseph Smith’s image and portrayals of him. These gems, however, instead of being a part of a beautiful tiara, are half buried in so much rough. Though I believe the goals the book lays out have not been fully realized, I believe that an unwritten goal of the publication is in the process of being realized. This was communicated to me by the author this past Wednesday. S. Michael Tracy told me that he wanted to put the information out and get serious dialogue going. Though that dialogue was probably already occurring in some limited scholarly circles, this debate has now expanded to other scholarly circles and is now also in the public’s hands. Tracy should be commended for his efforts and for his years of hard, no doubt devoted work.

So where has this journey taken me at last? As someone who began to read the book in hopes that it would confirm my hope that this is an authentic photograph of Joseph Smith, I leave the book disappointed. The convincing evidence promised remains undelivered. And since the author also has not provided a strong sense of the arguments against the Scannel daguerreotype, I am also left without having the image disproved to me either. So, I have basically been brought to rest not far from where I began. My hope now is that further study by trained professionals who are sufficiently detached from the emotionalism of the subject can be performed which will clearly and convincingly determine one way or another whether the Scannel daguerreotype is an authentic photograph of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

A postscript. I read this article at the Deseret News this morning where S. Michael Tracy responds to “cynicism” by academics and members and attributes it to the unfounded claims of that mass email.

“For a variety of reasons, members and academics alike were skeptical of the e-mail’s claims, and that skepticism has turned into cynicism regarding his book that was released this week, Tracy said.”

Perhaps this is the case for some, but I want to say that for my part, I never read that email and my feelings as exhibited here have come exclusively from having read the book.

Ardis has also put the first of a two-part discussion of her reactions at the Times and Seasons. Part 2.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Thanks for the analysis, though it is an unfortunate one.

    Comment by BHodges — May 2, 2008 @ 4:22 pm

  2. I haven’t read this part of your review yet, Jared, but I’m curious enough about reactions that I jumped to the comments, and in the process saw your postscript. I keep hearing about the email and have asked friends to send it to me if they get it. I got into this five or six weeks ago when I heard one of the staff members at LDS Archives say something about all the phone calls they had been receiving, many of which referenced the email.

    But I have never yet seen a copy of the email, either.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — May 2, 2008 @ 5:06 pm

  3. Is the e-mail to which you refer the press release from Eborn books?

    Comment by BHodges — May 2, 2008 @ 5:15 pm

  4. Thanks for the review. Bummer about the book.

    Comment by Edje — May 2, 2008 @ 5:40 pm

  5. BHodges I do no believe so I think it is a seperate email with the Scannel photo attached with internet style urban legends attached but that is based only on a some of what I heard.

    Thanks for the complete review. Sounds like the skeptic in me is feeling like Ardis is absolutely right in her previous evaluations on this photo and the optimist in me is a little disappointed.

    Comment by JonW — May 2, 2008 @ 6:01 pm

  6. Thanks for the lengthy and informative review, Jared.

    Comment by Christopher — May 2, 2008 @ 6:03 pm

  7. Does anyone know which blog post of Nate’s that Tracy is referring to? I’m pretty sure Tracy takes this identification seriously, but I’m thinking that there was some sarcasm that didn’t get communicated over.

    Comment by Jared T — May 2, 2008 @ 6:06 pm

  8. Jared, it appears to be this post, which deals with the daguerreotype of the RLDS painting. The “touting” of the Lincoln image is not by Nate at all, but rather by a “W Thompson” in the comments (18 and 19).

    Comment by Christopher — May 2, 2008 @ 6:23 pm

  9. Thanks, Chris. The text of the book leaves the identification of the person making the claim ambiguous, but the footnote is for Nate Oman as it’s his post. The incorrect link doesn’t help, and I guess that maybe there wasn’t as much sarcasm as I originally thought. Which is even scarier!

    Comment by Jared T — May 2, 2008 @ 6:41 pm

  10. Here’s one email that was making the rounds.

    Comment by Justin — May 2, 2008 @ 6:48 pm

  11. Here’s another version (note the crucial addition of the word “not”).

    Comment by Justin — May 2, 2008 @ 6:52 pm

  12. Another version contained the crucial word “not”:

    Joseph Smith Picture

    Comment by Justin — May 2, 2008 @ 6:53 pm

  13. I finally got to finish reading all of the reviews; very well done, Jared. I think I add my sighs about this book with the rest of the commenters. The sad thing is I fear that a lot of people are just going to take the statements of the book at face-value.

    One thing that I was hoping to hear more about was the provenance of the scannel image. Most of the blog comments (here and at T&S) focused around trying to figure out what the connection would be, and I remember *someone* even promising that convincing evidence would be given in the book. Did Tracy give a convincing provenance to the photo?

    Comment by Ben — May 2, 2008 @ 7:21 pm

  14. Thanks for the review.

    I hope someday someone will approach this subject more credibly. It’s an interesting subject, but I can’t keep track of all the nonsense that circulates. Was that one dauuereotype an original from which a painting was made, or vice verse, for instance? I know there are different views, but I can’t keep straight in my mind the arguments and who takes what position and so forth. There just seems to be a bunch of crap all over the place on Joseph Smith images. We need some solid, disinterested scholarship on this subject, even if the conclusion ends up being totally agnostic on the subject.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — May 2, 2008 @ 9:22 pm

  15. Very honest review.

    Jared T-
    It sounds to me like you disagree with Tracy’s methods but not his outcomes? Or in other words do you feel that his evidence is relevant but just a poor organization of the material?

    The reason I ask, it seems to me that with such obvious flaws in writing and editing the reader should be able to distance themselves from those negatives and see the real point of what the author was trying to say, albeit very scattered? I could be wrong, but I was curious about your opinion on that point after reading your review.

    Also, when you talked to Tracy at the open house, did you find him as scattered in person, or was this just an example of not being able to convey his information in mwriting?

    Because I met him as well and I got the impression that he was very thorough with the research. However, after reading your review it seems that the book was not able to capture that same impression.

    Any comment for further clarification? Thanks.

    Comment by Joe — May 2, 2008 @ 10:10 pm

  16. Wow, Jared this was a momentous review. I thoroughly appreciate your work and thoughts. What a devastating critique–I should have you read some of my stuff, I can always use the help. It sounds like Tracy has problems critically proving what he claims the text will do–always a valid criticism in my view. I also feel vindicated that my discussion of methodology did at least some good. I am glad that you think Tracy might at least start a conversation about the validity of forensic evidence in the study of history

    Comment by Joel — May 2, 2008 @ 11:13 pm

  17. […] The Joseph Smith Photograph (Salt Lake City: Eborn Pub., 2008), Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 What follows here is not a formal review, but simply a personal reaction to the whole book here, […]

    Pingback by Times & Seasons » That Daguerreotype Again (part 1 of 2) — May 2, 2008 @ 11:21 pm

  18. Joe, I have posted my response as a new post. I hope that answers your questions.

    Comment by Jared T — May 3, 2008 @ 11:58 am

  19. Jared,
    I appreciate your pointing out to me that I have four fingers pointing back at me. Please forgive my brash way of critiquing your review, especially the “emotionally unstable” part.
    I should have looked at my own life and perhaps realized that there is a “beam in my own eye”.
    I will not try and reword my thoughts of your review at this point, but will just offer my sincere apologies!!

    Comment by Patrick — May 4, 2008 @ 9:16 am

  20. I commented back in the other blog posting. Thank you for responding so thoroughly Jared.

    Comment by Joe — May 4, 2008 @ 6:54 pm

  21. […] Smith, including the Scannel daguerreotype. I have carefully avoided reading Jared T’s review, Part 4, dealing with these chapters, wanting to be fair to author S. Michael Tracy by offering an […]

    Pingback by Times & Seasons » That Daguerreotype Again (2 of 2) — May 4, 2008 @ 8:20 pm

  22. Thanks for producing this review, Jared. It’s never easy to find yourself forced to write a harsh review.

    What a strange exercise the author engaged in! Let’s take 9 images, assume they are all real, until we can eliminate 8 and end up with the real real one. Wow.

    Framing this exercise as a way to justify using the Scannel daguerreotype to produce a more perfect painting of Joseph is doubly bizarre. I was surprised when I saw the cover of this book was a painting of the daguerreotype, rather than a reproduction of the daguerreotype itself. Anyone can be inspired to paint the most inspired painting of Joseph tomorrow; the cool thing about the daguerreotype — if were Joseph — is that it would be the only known photomechanical image of the prophet dating from his lifetime.

    Was there no discussion in this book of the daguerreotype’s unfortunately flimsy provenance? The provenance is the key here. Without a reason to connect the image to Joseph, we might as well use color-dot-software to analyze every image of everyone to find the real real photo of the prophet. Maybe it really is the bearded photo. That one seemed to be dismissed too hastily.

    Comment by John Hamer — May 19, 2008 @ 11:59 am


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