I used to love the very few times I got to spend with my mother before she died. When she was out of the hospital on her good days; we used to roam the forgotten cemeteries in the countryside. My father sat shaking his head in his old Ford reading his Perry Mason paperbacks as he watched us read one crumbling stone after another.
I will never know why she had such a fascination for these places but she always reminded me it was important to remember the dead as their families soon forget about them. So one day, long after she had passed, I started collecting antique portraits of the deceased at country auction sales.
I gave them names and created stories because like my mother; I wanted them to know someone cared. My favourite picture is a huge Victorian mourning shadow box from 1919. The little girl died a year after her communion and inside the gold framed shadow box is a veil, her picture and dried calla lilies. An elderly friend told me one day that the little girl had probably passed because the photographer had stolen her soul. I never really thought about it again until I went to Peralta Junction years ago in Berkeley and encountered a soul photographer.
So was it true? Did photographers really steal your soul?
In some cultures any image taken may cause great distress because of religious beliefs, as they believe your reflection is your soul. If you look at some pictures of your great grandmother or possibly grandmother (depending on your age) you will notice no one smiles. There was popular belief that people didn’t like to have their pictures taken and the reason was because it stole your soul.
According to legends, mirrors when you look into them, reflect your soul and do not reflect back light that hits them. There is also an extension of the idea that your shadow is a reflection of your soul. Mirrors were considered an important part of the Mayan religion and culture as they thought mirrors opened portals into the other world, 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. Many religions today still cover mirrors with black cloth when someone dies so the soul does not get trapped inside the mirror after death.
Most people today allow their photograph to be taken, however some still protect their infants as some still believe the souls of infants are fragile and are susceptible to leaving the body. Photographing an infant could harm the soul, preventing its return to the body. The soul is believed to be composed of thirteen parts, and photography damages or even removes some of these components and a shaman is sometimes brought in
I believe that photos are frozen moments of time and everyone knows first hand you do not get time back. You live for today as there might not be a tomorrow – so why worry about a disappearing soul?
Anyways, current word on the street is using a digital camera does not steal the subject’s soul, film cameras do. So was Sears Inc. with their family photography promotions in on the soul stealing business all along; because I swear that lad below looks like my soul sister on a bad-hair day.