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  • Writer's pictureJohn Shore

How a photo of you steals your soul

You know how some aboriginal and native peoples around the world believe that taking a photograph of a person steals their soul? I’ve been thinking about that my whole life, because it’s just such an interesting idea. And in WhiteLandia, where I grew up, it’s one that was always cavalierly dismissed as just another dumb thing believed by ignorant and superstitious people whom, it went without saying, fundamentally deserved to be colonized, so let’s just enjoy a little chuckle about it and pass the potato salad.

I always wanted to grasp whatever truth there was behind that belief, though. It seemed like there was something real there. I just couldn’t figure out what.

But then, yesterday afternoon, I saw my reflection in the window of a grocery store I was walking by. I stopped, looked at myself—and there it was! I finally GOT it!

A photograph DOES steal your soul. Snatches it right away. How? By capturing, in real space and time, exactly what you look like.

If you never saw what you looked like—if what you looked like was never completely OBJECTIFIED the way it is in a photograph—then the only relationship you would ever have with the truth of who you are would be your own deep, personal, inviolate—and dare I say sacred— knowledge and experience of that truth.

You know the ancient idea that in a very real way a thing doesn’t exist until it receives its name—that in naming something you imbue it with its whole and discrete identity? This is the exact same thing—but opposite. It’s the other side of that coin.

A photograph of you NAMES you—it absolutely captures your identity . . . but not in a good way. It OBJECTIFIES you in a way that forces you to objectify yourself. Suddenly you can no longer see yourself from the inside—with the eyes and mind of your soul, as it were. Now you HAVE to look at yourself as you appear to the world, separate from the being you know yourself to most truly and authentically be.

You, and only you, had ever known the truth of who you are. And now that truth has been turned inside out. Now the WORLD, not you, possesses you.

Your soul’s been stolen.


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