Correct me if I’m wrong; but the click of a camera’s shutter can’t really steal your soul. Sure, I know some aboriginal tribes in various places in the world have held this belief, but I’ve been surprised lately at the increasing number of modern, civilized Americans who hold a similar belief.
As a photographer, I’m respectful of other people’s feelings about cameras. With so many of them around these days, there are privacy concerns, Big Brother worries, and just a general feeling of “why the hell are you pointing that thing at me?” Of course, laws permit the taking of any photos on public property, except where specifically prohibited. For instance, anyone can take any pictures they want from a roadway, a city sidewalk, a municipal park or at a public sporting event. These are not “private places.” But it’s against the law for someone to snap a picture of you while you’re in a restroom, your own home, etc. These things just make sense. But I’m not really talking about privacy concerns here.
Today, I was at the Oklahoma City National Memorial, which was erected on the site of the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. I had my camera, as did several dozen other people on a sunny Saturday afternoon. The crystal blue sky was half-filled with white puffy clouds that reflected nicely off the shimmering pool that stands between the symbolic gates at the memorial. It was a perfect day for capturing images of the place. But some were concerned that it wasn’t “appropriate” to take pictures there. That it wouldn’t properly honor the dead. Like I had no respect for them.
And I’ve run into this before. Some people have the feeling that it’s disrespectful to take pictures at a cemetery or funeral, or in certain museums.
As explanation, let me say that all a camera does (whether digital or film) is produce as faithful as possible a re-creation of the actual event or moment in time that it captures. It’s not a soul-stealing process. It’s not a “glamorizing” gimmick. It’s just a freaking camera. Like when you take a picture of your child, so you can always remember them at that moment, and always see that precious smile, even when they’ve grown into adulthood. Or even something less emotional, like when you take a picture of your beat up pickup truck to sell it in “Auto Trader.” You’re just giving a visual description of the product.
I take pictures for a different reason, when I’m not working. For one thing, my memory isn’t perfect (is yours?) Twenty years from now, I won’t remember what I looked like today, unless a picture was taken. I won’t remember what my car looked like. I won’t remember today’s glorious sunset or white puffy clouds. So I snap a picture, purely as a visual aid for my memory. When I’m older, I’ll want to flip through these old photos and see what I no longer remember.
How is this disrespectful? For one thing, the OKC Memorial was built for the exact purpose of remembering the dead, the series of events that led up to the bombing, and the aftermath. I can’t afford to visit the damn thing every day. So I want to take a picture, to remind me. To remember and honor those who were forever changed by the tragedy. Am I disrespecting the dead? Is it inappropriate? I think not.
There is no possible way that I am stealing someone’s soul. In fact, one of the few talents I have is sitting/standing behind my camera and pushing that damn button. Why do some consider it wrong for me to honor the dead by using this skill?