A rare photographic portrait likely of early church leader Oliver Cowdery, discovered in the Library of Congress collection seven years ago by an LDS researcher, has now been digitally restored and colorized by a church history enthusiast.
The 1840s daguerreotype (an early type of photograph) was found on Feb. 6, 2006, by researcher Patrick A. Bishop, who was then a Church Educational System coordinator in Casper, Wyo. Working on an unrelated project, Bishop was going through online images on an Internet site of the Library of Congress, looking for examples of 1840s style clothing. He came upon one image and immediately recognized it from its similarity to a published engraving as being the likeness of Oliver Cowdery, the "Second Elder of the church," a scribe to Joseph Smith in the translation of the Book of Mormon, who was with the Prophet when the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods were restored.
Through subsequent study and testing, Bishop determined with 95 percent certainty that the daguerreotype was indeed of Oliver, which would make it the only known photographic likeness of the man who, with Joseph Smith, was ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood by John the Baptist and to the Melchizedek Priesthood by Peter, James and John. Knowing the name of the photographer, J. P. Ball, Bishop was able to identify the general location, the vicinity of Tiffin, Ohio, where the portrait was taken. Oliver would have been practicing law in Tiffin in 1846, the likely year when the photograph was made. Bishop made a grid-line comparison with the extant engraving of Oliver that had been taken from another daguerreotype subsequently destroyed in a house fire. He found the facial features matched with exactness.
Bishop reported his finding later that year in an issue of BYU Studies, and spoke of it in a presentation at a Nov. 10, 2006, symposium at BYU marking the 200th anniversary of Cowdery's birth. The presentation was reported and the daguerreotype published in the Nov. 18, 2006, issue of the Church News.
Earlier that year, The Mormon Historic Sites Foundation commissioned Ken Corbett to paint a portrait from the newly found photograph. Donated to the church, that painting now hangs in the Church History Library in Salt Lake City.
Haymond's involvement began in October of last year, when he read an article on an Internet blog of TIME Magazine telling about some of the classic photographs of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln being retouched and colorized using Adobe Photoshop, the computer imaging software.
Haymond, a product designer and Internet technologist by profession, decided to try his hand at doing similar work with photographs from church history.
"I don't claim to be a Photoshop expert, but regularly work in Photoshop in my profession as a designer," he wrote in the Interpreter piece. "I also recalled having read about the recently discovered daguerreotype that could be Oliver Cowdery. If it is Oliver Cowdery, as research and general consensus seem to suggest, it is perhaps the earliest photograph of a church leader extant, thought to be taken in 1846. This, I thought, would be a good candidate for a test."
He told the Church News, "I thought this would be a worthwhile side project, helping to make the early moments of the Restoration just a bit more palpable and real. Sometimes these early people and events from church history can seem so distant and detached from our experience as to seem almost mythic or legend. Projects like this can help bring them somewhat closer to us and bring them to life."
He said a significant portion of the work was in retouching the image, a copy of which he downloaded from the Library of Congress, "since most of the daguerreotype was littered with debris and dust, and all of that had to be carefully removed while trying to not distort or alter the original underlying image."
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