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Strother, Z.S.. “A Photograph Steals the Soul”: The History of an Idea
2013, in: John Peffer and Elisabeth L. Cameron (eds.), Portraiture & Photography in Africa, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, pp. 177-212.
Added by: Hans Maes

Summary: Traces the origins of, and eventually challenges, the idea that many people in non-industrialized countries refused to have their photographic portrait taken due to the belief that it would steal their soul. Investigates and refutes the evidence provided by Richard Andree, James Napier, James G. Frazer. With references to C.S. Peirce, Rosalind Krauss, Susan Sontag.

Comment: Useful in aesthetics classes discussing portraiture, depiction and representation, as well as social and political philosophy classes focused on racial and cultural stereotyping.

Artworks to use with this text:

Antoine Freitas, self-portrait with handmade box camera in Bena Mulumba, Kasaï Province (1939)

A masterpiece of composition, showing the photographer at work, surrounded by children and women who would normally be kept away from recognized sorcerers (thereby demonstrating that the photographer was not considered an evil soul-stealing sorcerer).

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