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Some westerners think that people from pre-modern cultures considered photography "stealing somebody's soul". (Comment on Travel.SE, article by a photographer). Was this the case?

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Anecdotally, in the early 80's I travelled to Peru. In a market in Iquitos, we found a woman with a stand of magic supplies (charms, potions, etc.). We asked if we could take a picture. She agreed... and then quickly ducked out of sight so that she would not be in the picture. – Beofett May 21 '13 at 13:14
    
Interesting thing is: we believe photography CANNOT steal one's soul... Any researches supporting this claim? – Rodrigo Feb 3 at 22:16
up vote 22 down vote accepted

American Indians of the Pacific Northwest - Library Of Congress

[Carolyn J. Marr] illustrates a change in Native Americans' attitudes towards photography from the late 19th to the early 20th century.

At first, many Native Americans were wary of having their photographs taken and often refused. They believed that the process could steal a person's soul and disrespected the spiritual world.

Over time, however, some Native Americans came to cherish photographs as links to ancestors and even integrated them into important ceremonies.


More:

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Hmm, this is an old post, maybe these links are out of date. I can't find anything at the first link about Indians not wanting to be photographed. Rather, it's an intro to a collection described as "some 2,300 photographs" of Native Americans. The second link (Carolyn Marr) now goes to a list of many links. Three of these are collections of photos of American Indians, again with no mention of reluctance to be photographed. ... – Mark Daniel Johansen Jan 3 at 21:58
    
... The last (RIIC) says, "There are no pictures of him [Crazy Horse]. As legend has it, he refused to be photographed, because he believed the camera would steal his soul." "As legend has it" is pretty weak, of course. There's a long discussion about getting permission before taking pictures of Indians and respecting an answer of "no", but there's no indication this is because of beliefs about photos stealing one's soul. Lots of people object to being photographed for reasons of privacy, etc. – Mark Daniel Johansen Jan 3 at 22:00
    

Some cultures not only did, but still do. This article (with references) cites some Mexican towns, Voodoo practitioners and photographer James W. Bailey still sharing the belief that images can do harm to soul.

Mirrors were considered a major part of the Mayan religion and culture. Mirrors opened portals into the Otherworld, allowing ancestors and gods to pass through between the two planes. They believed when praying to a saint, the soul leaves the body. To help the soul find its way back into the body, mirrors are placed in front of saint statues to reflect back the soul.

In Chiapas, Mexico, there are towns which still adhere to the old Mayan ways. In San Juan Chamula it is illegal to take photographs in church. If you are caught using a camera in church - jail time is a distinct possibility. Older generation film cameras and todays SLR and digital SLR cameras still use mirrors. The Mayan beliefs led to photography being banned inside of churches.

Most of the people today allow their photograph to be taken, however infants are protected. It is still believed the souls of infants are fragile and are susceptible to leaving the body.

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protected by Community Nov 24 '13 at 23:00

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