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 www.lincolnportrait.com 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.