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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
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up vote 21 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.


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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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