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  #1  
Old 04-10-2010, 04:49 AM
Just Some Guy Just Some Guy is offline
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Did anyone actually believe a camera could steal their soul?

Looking around I can only find references to people talking about the belief that a camera could steal a soul but no one who can actually point to a person who actually believes it. There are people who don't like having their picture taken for religious reasons but not because it would do anything to their soul. There was a thread on this forum a few years ago with no one able to come up with an direct cite. The closest we came was someone being told by a guide that people they were dealing with believed it only to find that they were very willing to pose for pictures.

Before I decide that this is just something that people made up I thought I'd ask the question again: can anyone point out a group of people who believed that a photograph could steal their soul? Even a single person with a delusion instead of a cultural belief would be of interest.
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  #2  
Old 04-10-2010, 06:26 AM
even sven even sven is online now
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I think you are taking this too literally.

I've known some people in the developing world who were uncomfortable getting their pictures taken. The idea is not exactly that the camera steals your soul as much as having your image captured is a very powerful, private thing. It's something you probably don't want out of your control. It's something you especially probably don't want to share with strangers from very powerful parts of the world.

Think about it like pornography. Most of us are not really opposed to taking nudie pics and might even take some ourselves and our partners for our own enjoyment. But at the same time, you probably want to keep pretty tight control over any nude photos of yourself and would probably feel uncomfortable with random strangers having them- you'd wonder what their motivations were, feel uncomfortable sharing something so personal, and worry that it would somehow get back to you and cause trouble in your life.

Of course, chances are the guides say these things because nobody anywhere likes to get their photo taken without permission or when they feel like they are looking less than their best, and most tourists are too clueless to keep that in mind when they see someone in colorful ethnic dress. Better to tell some polite fiction than to have your tour group running around pissing everyone off with their cameras.
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  #3  
Old 04-10-2010, 07:20 AM
Frylock Frylock is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by even sven View Post
I think you are taking this too literally.
Why would you think this? The claim the OP refers to is a common one, and the claim is meant literally. The claim is that there literally were literal natives of some literal placed literally colonized by literal Europeans, and these literal natives literally believed that literal cameras literally steal your literal soul.

Are you saying you always interpreted the claim metaphorically or as an intentional exaggeration of some kind? What led you to interpret the claim that way?

Literally.
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  #4  
Old 04-10-2010, 08:03 AM
even sven even sven is online now
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I'm saying that some people may have beliefs that could be translated as "the camera steals your soul" but may be actually be a lot more complicated and nuanced than that.

For example, in Cameroon I regularly heard that airplanes and cell phones worked on "sorcery." While it's tempting to believe that Cameroonians are all walking around thinking that airplanes are controlled by wizards, a better way of understanding the idea would be that cell phones and airplanes are controlled by "invisible forces we don't understand and can't replicate on our own," which is reasonably true.

I'd bet that "the camera steals your soul" is a short and cute way of summing up complicated beliefs along the lines of "the camera captures an intimate part of you, perhaps even diminishing you in some unspecified but worrisome way and might put some part of you in control of another person." This is pretty much what people believed where I lived in Cameroon, and I can actually kind of see where they are coming from. But that is a lot less fun than a cute "look at the crazy stuff the natives believe" story.
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  #5  
Old 04-10-2010, 10:16 AM
Sage Rat Sage Rat is online now
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I know that the second Japanese photographer (after Shimooka Renjo), Ueno Hikoma, had a hard time at first because the Japanese believed that getting your photo taken would steal your soul/make you ill/make you die. Most of his business was with foreigners, though he also took scenic photographs.

http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedi...nagasaki-japan

Of course, within the decade, people were getting their pictures taken left and right.
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  #6  
Old 04-10-2010, 10:30 AM
RealityChuck RealityChuck is online now
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Maybe that explains the stereotypical Japanese tourists taking photos everywhere -- a secret mission to steal souls!
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  #7  
Old 04-10-2010, 10:57 AM
Sage Rat Sage Rat is online now
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Only tangentially related, but I found this site while looking for a cite:

http://oldphotosjapan.com/en/period/Meiji?pg=1
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  #8  
Old 04-10-2010, 11:06 AM
bibliophage bibliophage is offline
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Here's an anthropology article from 1902 (p. 90) about the Yao people of Africa who believed a photograph of a person was somehow connected to his soul and that damage to the photographic plate could affect the person's health.

Last edited by bibliophage; 04-10-2010 at 11:10 AM..
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  #9  
Old 04-10-2010, 11:18 AM
Triskadecamus Triskadecamus is offline
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In many countries with backward regimes, and unstable social systems, a picture of you in a western newspaper, or of you with a non-native, or in the wrong place can get you killed. If you tell the tourist that, they will argue with you. If you tell them you believe that the camera will take your soul, they will believe you.

Tris
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  #10  
Old 04-10-2010, 01:15 PM
Mahaloth Mahaloth is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RealityChuck View Post
Maybe that explains the stereotypical Japanese tourists taking photos everywhere -- a secret mission to steal souls!
Perhaps. I'm surprised South Park hasn't suggested it, since I think in that show, it has been stated that Japanese don't have souls.
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  #11  
Old 04-10-2010, 05:47 PM
Just Some Guy Just Some Guy is offline
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Originally Posted by Sage Rat View Post
I know that the second Japanese photographer (after Shimooka Renjo), Ueno Hikoma, had a hard time at first because the Japanese believed that getting your photo taken would steal your soul/make you ill/make you die. Most of his business was with foreigners, though he also took scenic photographs.

http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedi...nagasaki-japan

Of course, within the decade, people were getting their pictures taken left and right.
I think that's the closest so far. If those initial people who feared illness were working from a religious perspective then they may have thought that the photograph was damaging their spirit. I'll have to look into that further.

The Yao tribe, on the other hand, seem to be a case where they feared photographs due to a belief in sympathetic magic which I think can't really be interpreted as "stealing your soul".
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  #12  
Old 04-10-2010, 05:48 PM
Horatio Hellpop Horatio Hellpop is offline
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A quick survey of oft-photographed people--Madonna, Lady Gaga, Lindsey Lohan--makes me wonder if there isn't something to this notion.
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  #13  
Old 04-10-2010, 05:59 PM
Lumpy Lumpy is offline
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I've read that in some areas where traditional tribal medicine is still common, that it's very difficult to get people to agree to things like giving blood samples or biopsies. It sounds like pure superstition, but I can see the point if you translate the fear into technological terms: if you feared that these strangers could use your DNA samples to create targeted biological weapons.
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  #14  
Old 04-10-2010, 06:11 PM
Sage Rat Sage Rat is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Just Some Guy View Post
I think that's the closest so far. If those initial people who feared illness were working from a religious perspective then they may have thought that the photograph was damaging their spirit. I'll have to look into that further.

The Yao tribe, on the other hand, seem to be a case where they feared photographs due to a belief in sympathetic magic which I think can't really be interpreted as "stealing your soul".
In modern day Japan when they write stories set in the Meiji era they use the specific phrase "It will still my soul."
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  #15  
Old 04-10-2010, 06:17 PM
bucketybuck bucketybuck is offline
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I have no authority on the subject, but when at Ayers rock Australia, we were told not to photograph certain areas so as to not offend aboriginal beliefs. So, one culture at least who may have a problem with photographs.
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  #16  
Old 04-10-2010, 06:40 PM
Just Some Guy Just Some Guy is offline
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Originally Posted by bucketybuck View Post
I have no authority on the subject, but when at Ayers rock Australia, we were told not to photograph certain areas so as to not offend aboriginal beliefs. So, one culture at least who may have a problem with photographs.
Yep, there are people who believe that photographs are offensive to whatever they worship and avoid them for that reason. As another example some sects of Christianity consider the photograph to be a "graven image" and thus taboo. My suspicion was that kind of belief was blown up by popular culture to be the often mentioned "Photographs will steal their soul" but I wanted to try to track down if there was a source.

I'm still looking into a possible connection with Japanese beliefs since that seems to be the closest so far. I'm considering anything where the act of photography itself is spiritually harmful to the human subject as a possible source. If someone has to do something to the photograph afterward to harm the subject then it's sympathetic magic and not really what I'm looking for. Or if photography is a bad thing for the photographer to do but is not directly harmful to the subject it doesn't quite match.
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  #17  
Old 04-10-2010, 09:07 PM
even sven even sven is online now
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Originally Posted by Lumpy View Post
I've read that in some areas where traditional tribal medicine is still common, that it's very difficult to get people to agree to things like giving blood samples or biopsies. It sounds like pure superstition, but I can see the point if you translate the fear into technological terms: if you feared that these strangers could use your DNA samples to create targeted biological weapons.
In my experience, people prefer traditional medicine because the healers usually do not touch their patient, giving them little opportunity to do harm. Traditional healers also claim to cure things faster and cheaper.

Sounds stupid, but after seeing the problems that the poorly-trained under-equipped "modern" doctors in these areas makes you realize that it's probably not a bad idea to keep some distance. It's not uncommon for your friendly country doctor to poison people with the wrong drugs, spread disease due to poor hygiene, perform unnecessary surgery, etc. I almost got physically dragged in for unnecessary surgery in no-doubt substandard conditions once myself!

We had a kid in a village near me who was blind because he was prescribed the wrong drugs at some point by a half-trained doctor. People see stuff like that and wonder if they are not better off not messing with that stuff.
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Old 04-11-2010, 10:03 PM
Cugel Cugel is offline
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Originally Posted by bucketybuck View Post
I have no authority on the subject, but when at Ayers rock Australia, we were told not to photograph certain areas so as to not offend aboriginal beliefs. So, one culture at least who may have a problem with photographs.
Also, on news bulletins etc, stories dealing with Aboriginal matters often have a warning along the lines that the following contains images of deceased persons. Which apparently is an issue.
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  #19  
Old 04-11-2010, 10:36 PM
R. P. McMurphy R. P. McMurphy is offline
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Having recently been in Ethiopia, there is some credence to the belief that a photograph "steals" something form the individual.

I went into the central market in Addis Abib and there was no problem with taking pictures. Upon entering the area that was almost entirely Muslim, it was communicated that taking a picture with a camera was not to be tolerated. It probably had a lot to do with the "graven image" belief.

All that being said, the digital camera has changed a lot of the attitudes of people in third world countries. They used to abhor having their picture taken but now, if you take their picture and show them their image on the LCD screen they are happy and amused.
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  #20  
Old 04-12-2010, 12:29 PM
md2000 md2000 is offline
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I think it was the first "Crocodile Dundee" movie...

Aboriginal: "You can't take my picture..."
Journalist: "Why? Are you afraid I'm going to steal your soul?"
Aboriginal: "No, because you still have the lens cap on."
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