The images of people and places used in The Joseph Smith Papers are carefully selected to illustrate important information found in the documents and annotation. In selecting images, our historians, archivists, and editors search for photographic and other images from as close to the time discussed in the documents as possible. Preference is given to photographic images, but contemporary paintings, drawings, and etchings are also included.
This website includes most of the images used in our printed volumes as well as some additional images. Whenever possible, an image’s content, date, and provenance are verified through careful research. When an image cannot be verified, it is generally not published in The Joseph Smith Papers, even if the image may have appeared in other published works. Readers may note that some images used online differ from those in the printed volumes or that some images appearing in printed volumes do not appear online. In some cases, where further research by our staff or others reveals that an image has been used incorrectly, the correct information is provided on our website and incorrect images are removed. In other cases, permissions for electronic publication could not be obtained from outside repositories.
The image most frequently associated with the Joseph Smith Papers Project is the profile drawing of Joseph Smith, done in charcoal, paint, and ink by early Utah artist Danquart A. Weggeland. Weggeland based his drawing on earlier artists’ work. This image, which is owned by the Church History Museum of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is used on the dust jacket of our cloth volumes and as an embossed image on our leather-bound editions. It also appears on our website and on promotional materials. Our use of this image is not intended as an endorsement of it as the definitive image of Joseph Smith. In the absence of a verifiable photograph, we have used several other images of Joseph Smith as well. Many of them look quite different from each other. Notable are an oil painting by David Rogers from 1842 (owned by the Community of Christ Library-Archives), a gouache and ink profile by Sutcliffe Maudsley done around 1842 (Church History Museum), and the plaster death mask created by George Cannon and Ariah C. Brower in 1844 (Church History Museum).
That a photograph of Joseph Smith would not exist is not surprising or unusual. Photography was relatively new at the time of Joseph Smith’s death. Primitive cameras had been used to temporarily project images, but in January 1839 Frenchman Louis Daguerre announced that he had developed a means of fixing photographic images on thin metal plates. Knowledge of the new process spread to North America, where innovators like Samuel F. B. Morse adopted it and began taking photographs themselves.
Photographs made with Daguerre’s process were a popular novelty in 1840s America, including among Latter-day Saints. In 1844 Latter-day Saint convert Lucian Rose Foster set up a photography studio in the church center of Nauvoo, Illinois, but if he photographed Joseph Smith, the image has since been lost. Only a few of Foster’s photographs from Nauvoo remain; of these, an image of Willard and Jennetta Richards is notable. An image of Brigham Young and one of Nauvoo with the temple seen in the background are also believed to have been taken by Foster. In 1849, Wilford Woodruff was photographed with his family in Boston, Massachusetts, by another Latter-day Saint photographer, Marsena Cannon. These images capture early Latter-day Saints at younger ages, reflecting the youth that characterized the infant church and its leaders. Cannon arrived in Utah in 1850 and soon began photographing the people there. His photographs, as well as others taken in the 1850s, 1860s, and later, show the graying of the once-youthful leadership of the church.
The passage of time also affects images of places. Like people, locations change with time. Trees grow and may be felled, and buildings may have portions added or razed. As time passes, the possibility of misidentification also increases.