What Joseph Smith Looked Like According to AI

I recently took the plunge and dropped the $30 for the monthly subscription to MidJourney v5, the text-to-image generator that is currently leading the pack (by far). I uploaded a picture of Joseph Smith’s death mask, merged it with additional prompts about age and details about Joseph Smith’s eye and hair color, and asked it to make a photorealistic image.

As you can see, the skin in the midjourney image still has some flecks from the death mask, but overall it’s not bad (except bottom-left Joseph looks scary).

As a point of comparison, here is the death mask and the purported photo that was unearthed last year.



Some commenters suggested trying this same approach with people who have death masks and photos in order to test correspondence. As you can see, results vary, but it does look like it’s in the ballpark (except for Dillinger).

John Dillinger

James Joyce


Abraham Lincoln



17 comments for “What Joseph Smith Looked Like According to AI

  1. Well, the upper left is not Joseph Smith because it is Joe Montana (or Barry Manilow–take your pick).

  2. The image I’ve maintained in mind’s eye for many years closely matches the upper left. So for me personally, this is how I will continue to see Brother Joseph. Thanks for conducting this experiment with AI.

  3. Your comparison photo is most likely not Joseph Smith. Thus, the AI is basing its mockup on bad data. It is still garbage in, garbage out.

  4. The comparison photo (the one unearthed last year) was not used in the AI model, only the death mask photo. Specifically, this was my prompt, with the https file as the death mask (the “clear skin” addition was due to the earlier versions having a lot of plaster on the skin from the death mask image, and the “short hair” addition was due to it imposing longer hair for some reason):

    https://s.mj.run/-fULC8-K_U4 as a realistic photo of a 40-year old man, clear skin, long eyelashes, light hair, short hair –v 5 –seed 1

  5. Good idea. If you send me a URL for a death mask I’m happy to try that out. I seem to remember seeing a BY death mask. I vaguely remember it being shaved but I don’t know if that’s a false memory, and I don’t know what a beardless 80-year old BY looks like.

  6. Death masks ceased to be a thing in the US* when photography became available — the chief purpose of a death mask was to preserve as accurate an image as possible, and of course photography was highly accurate (allowing for postmortem slumping), faster, and more pleasant to do even posthumously.

    No death mask was made of Brigham Young.

    (*It continued much longer in parts of Europe, I’m guessing because of the long tradition of 3D stone portraits/effigies on aristocratic tombs in cathedrals.)

  7. Years ago I contacted the Community of Christ Church (RLDS) and asked if they had any paintings/photos of JS. They sent me one painting that I think most have seen so I asked if there were any pictures. They sent one and said that their historians were 90% sure it was JS.

    It is the first picture in this LDS Living article. Someone did some research and compared this pic to the death mask and it seemed like a match but nobody is going to say it is him with absolute certainty. We have been fooled with stuff before. ;) Sure fits the descriptions we have of him looking young for his age.


  8. I think suggestive might be the right word, although some are off. So for JS some of the outputs might seem nothing like him to those who knew him.

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