Joseph Smith (Paul Wuthrich) on the set of the Interpreter Foundation’s Witnesses film project. (Always photographed by James Jordan)

You’ve probably heard of the discovery of what may be an authentic daguerreotype image of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Here is a background article on the discovery that includes an official response to it from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

“Is there a picture of Joseph Smith? What a Descendant Found in a Forgotten Family Heirloom »

And here is a short article on the discovery that contains some details that I did not know before:

“Photo of Mormon Founder Joseph Smith Discovered by Descendant After Nearly 180 Years: A great-great-grandson of Joseph Smith Jr. found the Mormon prophet’s photo hidden in a locket passed down from generation to generation.”

I have found some interesting responses to the image – which I am somewhat inclined to believe to be genuine -: some believers have, I think, been bothered by it, feeling that the face is not good enough, or that it looks too old, or somehow (I guess) doesn’t look prophetic or sincere or whatever. I do not share any of these concerns. I can imagine that by the time he was almost thirty-nine and after being subjected to all sorts of persecution and stress, the bloom of youth would have started to fade. Also, early photographs tended to take a long time and the people in them hardly ever smiled (if at all). I can imagine daguerreotypes worked a bit the same way. Moreover, in an article published in the Salt Lake Grandstand, Community of Christ (aka RLDS) leader and historian Lachlan Mackay quotes Emma Smith, Joseph’s wife, who remarked that a good portrait of her husband “could not be painted because his face changed all the time. “.

Some critics reacted to the discovery by essentially saying that all of their own feelings about Joseph – for example, that he was an impostor, a lecher, a trickster, a pedophile, a bully and a rogue and a generally unscrupulous villain – have been validated by the image. I confess that I do not see any those neither do things. Moreover, it seems to me that such “glimpses” are quite difficult to justify on the basis of a single small daguerreotype portrait, even if we assume it to be authentic. Rather, I think the image serves them as a kind of Rorschach test, and their answers probably tell us more about them than the person in the portrait.

One or two of those same critics used the discovery of the daguerreotype to renew their derision of the Interpreter Foundation theatrical film. Witnesses because the apparent image of the nearly forty-year-old Joseph Smith in the locket does not look exactly like the way Paul Wuthrich portrayed Joseph Smith, for our film, at the age of about twenty-three. Well, I thought Paul was really good and his appearance was reasonably close to what we know about Joseph’s appearance. He certainly resembles at least as closely the young Joseph as, say, Christopher Plummer, Alan Cumming, Kenneth Branagh, Dan O’Herlihy, John Lithgow, Bill Murray, David Strathaim, Ralph Bellamy, Jason Robards, Jon Voight and Edward Herrmann wore to Franklin D. Roosevelt (whom they all portrayed on film).

I mentioned last night that Witnesses had just won the 2021 Association for Mormon Letters (AML) Film Award. I don’t make much of these things because (a) we didn’t create the film to win awards and (b) I realize that the film market and the Latter-day Saint film industry are small, and that even winning such a prize still leaves a relatively large fish in a very small pond. Nevertheless, winning a prize is better in almost all cases than not winning a prize. And it’s gratifying that Witnesses won not only that award, but also the 2021 LDS Film Festival Best Feature Award and a 2021 Telly Award. The statuettes representing those latter two awards look great on our dining room buffet, and — I don’t don’t know one way or the other — maybe something will eventually happen from the AML.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, AML’s announcement has stirred up the usual suspects. They clearly feel an urgent need to denigrate Witnesses again and lower the price. And they’ve been there for quite a while now. For the first two years at least after the initial announcement of our film project, they were certain that Witnesses would never be done. (Some even suggested that I would take money donated by donors and use it for personal business, or that I had already embezzled donated funds). They were then sure that Witnesses would be amateur mediocrity – basically a matter of me with an old pocket camera. When it appeared, they declared it a cinematic joke and then, ultimately, a total flop. Now these may seem to change position. But, correctly understood, they really are not. These people maintain their focus. They keep their eyes on the prize. In a world of continuous flux and instability, it’s kind of reassuring to know that at least a few things never change.


In our priesthood meeting today, which was dedicated to the theme “A Mighty Change of Heart” – based on a talk by Elder Eduardo Gavarret that was delivered during the April 2022 General Conference of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – part of the lesson was to discuss our first “spiritual experience”, or (my wording) the first time the gospel really began to mean anything to us, personally . Two people volunteered to share what came to their memories, then I volunteered to share what came to mine. The first places his first experience of this kind around the age of thirteen or fourteen. The second, noting the mention of this age and remarking that it was the same age as the Prophet Joseph when he saw his first vision, also said that his first spiritual experience came around the age of fourteen. Which interested me, because the experience I recounted took place around the age of thirteen or fourteen as well. Probably fourteen. I wonder if there is any meaning to this. Has anyone else had such experiences around this age?