There is no verified photograph known to exist of Joseph Smith, first president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, true or not, a special public showing centering on a purported "Joseph Smith photograph" attracted a sizable audience Wednesday.

The open house, in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City, featured large copies of the photograph. It was sponsored by Eborn Publishing of Ogden, not the LDS Church.

The event revolved around the release of a new book, published by Eborn, "Millions Shall Know Brother Joseph Again: The Joseph Smith Photograph," by S. Michael Tracy.

"I thought it was really interesting," said Alan Jeppesen of Tooele. "I think it's Joseph."

Jeppesen said it was the 32 points of comparison made in a related documentary, which he watched, that convinced him the photograph was of the first LDS prophet.

"I'm not convinced," Mel Allen of Mesa, Ariz., said after his visit to the open house. "It looks very much like him, though."

Others left saying they were inspired by the display, but also undecided. At one point Wednesday afternoon, more than 50 people were browsing the open house.

Bill Slaughter, photo historian in the LDS Family and Church History Department, also attended the open house.

"I think the author has done a nice presentation," he said, disagreeing, however, with the conclusions made, because there are simply too many unknowns.

For example, he said no one knows where the photograph comes from, whether it was taken in the United States, or even if it is of an American. Merging the photo with a death mask of Smith, as Tracy has done, also raises issues of scale and size.

Slaughter said there was one instance in Smith's life where he was definitely within a few blocks of a new photo studio in Philadelphia, but it is unknown if the studio was operational then, or if Smith visited there.

Smith was known to have a keen interest in new inventions, but "was he there in time? ... It's the questions," Slaughter said.

He stressed he has a great deal of respect for Tracy and his work, though.

Daguerreotype photography was just reaching the U.S. in the early 1840s. Smith was killed in 1844.

Joe Bauman, a recently retired Deseret News reporter, has been researching and collecting daguerreotype photography for more than 40 years.

He said the photograph in question is said to have been taken in 1840, but the technology of that process doesn't match that time period.

"There's no way it's Joseph Smith," Bauman said. He believes it looks more like a late 1840s or early 1850s daguerreotype. He also said the photo has a plate mark on it that came later than 1840.

Dennis Waters, a New Hampshire man who has studied and collected daguerreotypes for more than 20 years, said it would be impossible for the image to be Smith.

"I'm laughing," Waters said in a phone interview, as he looked at a copy of the image. "I've looked at 15,000 daguerreotype plates, and this plate could not have been taken before 1848. This could not possibly be Joseph Smith."

Waters said the man looks too young, and the style of his clothing would indicate the picture was taken years after Smith's. He also said there weren't any daguerreotypists capable of producing such a high-quality image in the places Smith would have been in the years leading up to his death.

Waters' Web site — www.finedags.com — offers a good look at the evolution of the quality of daguerreotype photography, both collectors said.

The LDS Church issued an official statement March 19 seeking to lessen speculation about the daguerreotype, which is owned by the Community of Christ.

Some news reports last month suggested the photograph may be of Smith, but neither the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) nor the LDS Church has vouched for the authenticity of the image, which has been in the Community of Christ archives since the mid-1990s.

"On the basis of available evidence it is not possible to confirm that the image is, in fact, of Joseph Smith," the LDS Church statement from March 19 said, adding that speculation and claims about whether church officials "have verified or are verifying its authenticity — are not true."

The release further stated the church "does not have or own this photograph or any image of Joseph Smith other than several early artists' portrayals of him and some early photographs of those portrayals. The church does have the death mask of Joseph Smith."

Wednesday's open house also featured a new documentary, "Picturing Joseph," by Nick Galieti, as well as new paintings of Joseph Smith by Ken Corbett.

Tracy will appear at a second book signing at Eborn's office, 3607 Washington Blvd., in Ogden, from 5 to 7 p.m. today. His new, 264-page book sells for $39.99.

For more information about the new book and documentary, go to ebornbooks.com.


Contributing: Aaron Falk

E-mail: lynn@desnews.com