Sacred portraits: Photographer makes images for JSP project

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 21 2009 12:15 a.m. MDT

Welden

C. Andersen says his career photographing Hollywood stars for movie

posters and musicians for album covers pales in comparison to the

portraiture project he is undertaking now.Andersen now takes the most important historical documents in the

archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and makes

"portraits" of them for the volumes of the Joseph Smith Papers Project.

__IMAGE1__Original manuscripts of revelations now in the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph Smith's pocket diary and other journals,

church ledgers, the printer's manuscript for the Book of Mormon are

all part of Andersen's work. "I'm kind of an eyewitness to history, in

a way," he said of the time he spends with these historical treasures.

The first two volumes of the Joseph Smith Papers Project have been

published so far. The church expects it will take 15 years and a total

of 30 printed volumes to complete the project.

A convergence of the right technology and artistry "came together at

the moment we needed it" to make the photographic images true portraits

and "not just Xerox copies."

On the technology side, the latest 39-megapixel Hasselblad H3DII-39

multishot camera, sophisticated software and computers capable of

working with 288-megabyte raw capture files allow Andersen to make

images so sharp and detailed that individual fibers in the paper are

crisply visible. On the artistic side, the lighting is so carefully

designed that each of those fibers has subtle light-and-shadow detail.

Viewing the overall photograph looks as much as possible like viewing

the original document.

Researchers can examine the documents in greater detail, enlarging

the photographs on a computer screen, than they could by holding the

original and examining it with a magnifying loupe, Andersen said.

About 650 of the images Andersen has captured so far are in the

"Revelations and Translations: Manuscript Revelation Books" oversized

volume of the Joseph Smith Papers Project released Sept. 22. This

volume is specifically referred to as a "Facsimile Edition" because of

the full-color, full-page photographs. With high-quality images of rare

documents written in Joseph Smith's hand now in print, "I don't have to

tell you who Joseph Smith is. You look at this, and you'll know."

"Seeing

the handwritten revelations for yourself is a powerful spiritual

witness," said Elder Paul K. Sybrowsky, assistant executive director of

the Church History Department. "It brings you closer to the Prophet

Joseph and to these foundational scriptural texts."Andersen does his work in an expansive photo studio deep in the

bowels of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake

City. "There is always somebody from (the Church History) department

with them at all times," Andersen said of the documents he is working

with. "They don't ever just lock the door and leave them behind to go

to lunch."

Robin Jensen is among the core members of the Joseph Smith Papers

Project team who have worked with Andersen, helping position the aging

and fragile books for the camera.

"As someone who obsesses over the slightest features in manuscripts

and their transcriptions, I appreciate Welden's meticulous attention to

detail," said Jensen, an editor of the facsimile edition just released.

"He is a perfect fit within the project, exemplifying the care with

which the Joseph Smith Papers (team) devotes to transcription and

document analysis."

The high-resolution photographs have "both an archival purpose and a

scholarly or investigative purpose," said Ronald K. Esplin, the Joseph

Smith Papers Project's managing editor.

"Shooting at extremely high resolution allows one to see things that

are not visible to the naked eye and to capture detail for archival

purposes that may not be visible even to the camera in another 50

years," Esplin said. "Because the documents will never be more legible

than they are now, it is important that for the most significant

documents we capture and preserve all the data, all the detail, that is

technically feasible to capture."

Photographs of the documents meet the project's current objective of

providing high-quality images for the printed volumes. Just how the

church will make the images available online or through other

electronic delivery is still a work in process, said Church History

spokesman Patrick Dunshee.


E-mail: sfidel@desnews.com

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