Saturday, November 12, 2016

Can Photographs Really Steal Your Soul?

“In the face of a social reality ruled by alienation and based on affective labor, the theft of the soul through photography may sound itself like a nice, innocent, harmless and naive metaphor.” 
                                                                      Florian Schneider

Earlier I wrote the post “Photographs steal souls, don’t they?” 
And now I want to return to this subject because I find it very interesting.

The idea that a photograph steals a human soul considered to be a pre-technological fear born of simple ignorance.
But as the character Sherlock Holmes mentioned,
“Once the idea exists, it cannot be killed”.

As we can see this idea is still alive.
And nowadays there are a lot of times when people refuse to be photographed.

People refuse to be photographed for several reasons:
- they believe that a photograph can steal a soul (or can cause any harm),
- they just generally don’t like being photographed (or they don’t like how they feel or look that day), etc.

1. Stealing souls through photography as a belief.

“Primitive people think you’re stealing their soul when you photograph them. Some of that is still in us.”                                             
                                                                                   Rollie McKenna

1). Why military pilots refuse to take photos before the combat mission?

Russian photographer Oleg Klimov covered all war conflicts in the USSR and Eastern Europe.
He wrote (here’s my translation) that almost any photographer faced the problem when people refuse to be photographed during the funeral or the birth of a child, or even in daily life.
This may be for many reasons. And one of them is the mystical faith that a photographer steals a part of the human soul.
Long ago pictures were worn in the amulets. You can have different attitudes to this belief. The fact remains that a photograph as an image contains a mystery. And this mystery is much more than any chemical (or any other) process of the information transmission.
People unconsciously feel that your soul (in other words, your aura) is crashing, is ready to drift away to the bottomless black hole. This is the state of singularity which you could notice among the soldiers disfigured in war, women who lost their children or just a passerby if you accidentally look into his eyes and realize that death is somewhere here. It’s probably one of the reasons why we avoid the sick or infirm people.
Oleg Klimov didn’t see something strange in the fact that military pilots refuse to take photos before the combat mission. It was the popular belief that if a pilot be photographed he will not return to the Earth. That’s why Klimov didn’t take photos before their flights.

“Just as the camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a sublimated murder – a soft murder…” 
                                                                                       Susan Sontag

2). Why people in Morocco will be aggressive when you take your camera?

French-Moroccan artist Leila Alaoui started traveling through Morocco, documenting the people she met along the way. Her photo project, “The Moroccans,” is complicated by the fact that Moroccans are particularly apprehensive about being photographed.
“There's no way I can take a camera and just do street photography in Morocco. People will get aggressive,” says Leila Alaoui. The reasons, she notes, are myriad, and range from superstition to feelings of being exploited.
“There is an association with witchcraft and there's this kind of fear that if someone takes your photo, they can use it after and put a spell on you,” she admits.
“The second reason is I think people are getting tired of European tourists coming in and taking photos of exotic Morocco. People feel like they're being a bit used.”

“People really are afraid to be photographed. You present yourself as potentially threatening, with a threatening instrument. The thing you try to do is break down that fear.” 
                                                                                    Rollie McKenna

3). Do people avoid being photographed for religious reasons? 

Humility is a high value for the Amish. They believe that personal photos can accentuate individuality and even violate the Biblical commandment, “Thou shalt not make unto thyself a graven image.” They do not use cameras and avoid other people with cameras. Nowadays they can agree to be photographed from a distance that would make them hard to be identified.
(read more here).

The members of the sect of the [Dukh-i-zhiznik] Molokan faith believe that the second commandment against graven images forbids making pictures of individuals.
In 1964 and in 1984 the court granted some members of this sect a non-photo license. But the world has changed after 9/11. So it is almost inconceivable for anyone today not to be photographed.
(read more here)

“I think people today are almost easier to approach, they know what a photograph is like. They want to be seen. That’s another thing. I don’t know, I have always felt that street photography was really – sneaking, stealing a soul.” 
                                                                                          Bruce Davidson

2. Stealing souls through photography as a metaphor.

It’s almost impossible to imagine modern life without photography.
There are millions of personal archives of snapshots, graduation and wedding photographs.
Two years ago Web and app users were sharing and uploading 1.8 billion photos a day.  And the number of photos is increasing daily.

Today the phrase “stealing one’s soul” is mostly a metaphor and has the meaning “violating one’s boundaries”.

“…we take a photo; we do not normally give or even make one. We shoot a scene or portrait, as if killing it; and we capture memories, as if the family photo album or web page were some sort of prison.” 
                                                                                        David Graham

It can be supposed that street photography is one of the most confrontational genres of photography.
But it’s possible to use non-confrontational style (be respectful, ask the permission, thank your model, give your contact information, etc.)

“There are situations that refuse to be photographed. But at other times nothing will stop me, because I know my pictures will not shout against anyone - only against time”.                                                                                                          Mario Giacomelli

Thank you for reading!
Comments are always appreciated!