What Do You Call a Fear of Being Photographed?

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Reader’s Question

I want to know what the term is for a fear of having one’s photo taken. I have a friend who says that he hates to have his picture taken and will do everything possible to avoid doing so. He has mentioned something about feeling like the spirit of a person is being endangered. I think it may be a phobia. Is there a name for this?

Psychologist’s Reply

Technically, a phobia is a fear that is connected to a specific, identifiable object or situation. And although some “lists” of phobias total over 100 items, there is no specific term for a fear of being photographed per se. There are some terms related to the fear of bright lights or of technical equipment such as cameras, but no specific term that is generally accepted which describes the fear of having one’s picture taken.

Concern over possibly endangering the human spirit or soul through photography or other similar circumstances is another matter, however. There are many cultures throughout the world whose religious and other belief systems include the concern that a soul can be “captured,” imprisoned, or stolen wholly or in part by a variety of means, including photography. Such beliefs don’t really involve an irrational fear like we seen in phobias, but rather are rooted in the major tenets of the religion.

Beliefs about certain objects and their powers regarding the human soul have been with us through many ages and cultures. The superstition about bad luck coming from a broken mirror originated from ancient folklore that a mirror image necessarily contains the soul and therefore breaking it causes a fracturing of the soul. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans thought that reflective surfaces could permit seeing the future by gaining access to the eternal soul. Many Native American cultures believe that the soul can be endangered by photography. Crazy Horse strictly forbade his picture being taken, and in fact no photos of him were ever taken while he was still alive. In certain Mayan cultures, photography is feared, especially when it might involve photographing infants whose souls are considered too fragile and susceptible to many avenues of being separated from the body. In some areas of Chiapas, Mexico, it’s still illegal to take a photograph in church (I experienced this personally when doing mission work there in the mid-sixties). Such laws were passed when most cameras still had a mirror inside them. Because Voodoo practitioners believe that any sympathetic (similarly appearing) object can create a powerful link to another such object, photographic images are regarded as prime tools for casting spells or curses.

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All things considered, your friend is less likely to be afraid of the camera per se, or of the situation of being photographed. Rather, he might be struggling with concerns of a religious or cultural nature that causes him to be wary of subjecting his soul to damage, capture, etc.

Some individuals who subscribe to certain belief systems that include concern over photography can be convinced it is safe to have their pictures taken with digital photography because there are no mirrors present in the camera and because the image is ultimately assembled from digital components.

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