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Does photography steal the subject's soul?

Emre Safak , Oct 08, 2005; 08:26 p.m.

I usually take candid pictures, usually without asking for permission. Usually I have no problem, but once in a while I encounter a person who vehemently objects, claiming that I am stealing their soul. It happened to me recently in the Caribbean island of Bequia, when an old woman covered her face long before I had any idea of taking her picture, and waved me away. In situations like this I simply pass because I have no interest in taking pictures of people against their will, rather than because I sympathise with their beliefs. In fact, I have no idea what these people are thinking. Can someone explain?


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Meryl Arbing , Oct 08, 2005; 08:50 p.m.

Those cultures that retain a belief in 'sympathetic' magic (where something that was a part of the person, like nail clippings, hair, blood or even an article of clothing) could be used to cast a spell or curse. A part of the 'victim' is essential in creating a 'voodoo doll'.

The 'voodoo' doll is an 'image' of the person and it isn't a far stretch for superstitious people to view a photographic image as having similar 'power' and be afraid.

I think you are correct. It is good manners (and in some situations good sense) not to take pictures of people who object.

Emre Safak , Oct 08, 2005; 08:53 p.m.

I forgot to mention: would a painting of a person also be taboo?

Stephen H , Oct 08, 2005; 08:53 p.m.

Take two pictures, give her one back, she's still got her soul, you have your picture. : )

Stephen Lewis , Oct 08, 2005; 09:24 p.m.

In some cultures any image (photo, painting, drawing) may cause distress because of religious beliefs. Best if you read up on a culture you are unfamiliar with before photographing them so as to not create ill will. Your present sensitivity suggests that you will take that to heart.

Derek Glickstein , Oct 08, 2005; 09:47 p.m.

Using a digital camera does NOT steal the subject's soul. Film cameras do.


Ocean Physics , Oct 08, 2005; 09:54 p.m.

The 'voodoo' doll is an 'image' of the person and it isn't a far stretch for superstitious people to view a photographic image as having similar 'power' and be afraid.

One man's superstition is the next man's religion. Religion aside, the average 21-century American or European, despite many years of education, believes so much nonsense (old wives tales, urban legends, paranormal b.s. and other myths, fallacies and misconceptions) that third-world Voodoo believers probably deserve a little slack.

John Falkenstine , Oct 08, 2005; 10:26 p.m.

Just think what 3rd Workd Voodoo believers would think of US after listening to a couple of minutes of Rush Limbaugh on the Radio!

aslan Ivo , Oct 08, 2005; 10:34 p.m.

Actually, their idea that the camera can steal your soul is really no more weird then our idea that photographs can deprive the subject's intellectual property rights in her image. Heck, nowdays even building can't be photographed because they've been protected by trademarked.

John Falkenstine , Oct 09, 2005; 12:42 a.m.

Perhaps you're seeing "tourist burnout" I know that in Mexico, I can see from the expressions on some people's faces that they are not excited about being the subject of somebody's photography, especially when that kind of stuff goes on all day to varying degrees. Often re-appearing and socializing before the photography starts or even offering a few pictures can make a HUGE difference!

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