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?

  • 2
    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
    Commented May 21, 2013 at 13:14
  • 4
    Interesting thing is: we believe photography CANNOT steal one's soul... Any researches supporting this claim?
    – Rodrigo
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 22:16
  • 4
    An amusing deleted answer: "When the first computer showed up in my high school, I wouldn't go near it because I believed that computers steal your soul. This turned out to be true."
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 1:14
  • @Rodrigo there should be at least a bare research about soul first, before making research on photographing it. But science doesn't contemplate that, FWIK. — But yeah, I would try to disprove it first, instead of assuming that photos are harmless. Funny how entitled western culture can often be, even tho there's no evidence of anything whatsoever. Commented Apr 16, 2023 at 18:55
  • @Kamafeather I got your point, but what some peoples call "soul" (in their own languages, of course) might be a substitute for wit, emotions, humor, tranquility, versatility, etc.
    – Rodrigo
    Commented Apr 16, 2023 at 20:08

2 Answers 2


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.


  • Hmm, this is an old post, maybe these links are out of date.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. ... Commented Jan 3, 2016 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. Commented Jan 3, 2016 at 22:00
  • Here's an updated link: lcweb.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/connections/pacific/…
    – Melllvar
    Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 1:14
  • And now that link's gone dead, too. The (book?) came up in a catalog search, with a catalog entry listing it as an E-Resource, but there still doesn't appear to be any way to access the material itself without logging in and "Request[ing] this Item". Obtaining a login is not an open/online process, AFAICT.
    – FeRD
    Commented Jul 9, 2018 at 4:40

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.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .