Thought for the Day - Rev Dr Giles Fraser - 19/09/12

Is it an urban myth, or are there really people who object to having their photograph taken on religious grounds - are there exotic distant tribes who believe that photography steals their soul? Perhaps there are. But on a quick trawl through the internet the only person I could find making such a claim was the actress Kiera Knightly. "I'm not comfortable being photographed as myself" she said. "Australian Aborigines say that with every photo that is taken, a piece of your soul goes with it. And there are some days when I kind of believe that."

This surely cannot be true of all Aboriginal tribes. After all, I've seen loads of photographs of smiling Aborigines apparently perfectly happy to be photographed. Perhaps they have been paid to do it, I don't know. But my point is this: that it's just as much a concern for the secular west as it may be for those people who, one sometimes gets
the impression, are being laughed at for believing in some mystical hocus pocus.

Kiera Knightly is not doing this, of course. She knows the lens of the modern media has a way of objectifying a person, turning them into some sort of object of public consumption and titillation. Similarly, on Monday evening in a French court, a lawyer acting for the Royal Family argued that "The Duchess is a young woman and not an object"
after she was snapped sunbathing topless with a telephoto lens. And yesterday, the court fined the French magazine Closer for publishing their picture without permission.

All of which makes wonder whether I do in fact believe a camera can take away parts of a person's soul. For what makes a human being special is their dignity, their inner worth. If you like, you can call this a person's soul. And this is indeed threatened if you treat a person as some sort of thing, as simply a tool for the objectifier's
purpose - whether it be it sexual or commercial objectification.

Some years ago I was visiting a terrible slum on the outskirts of Accra in Ghana. I leant out of the car window to take some pictures. The people whose photograph I was taking noticed what I was doing and angrily objected. Thinking about it more, they were right to. I was
treating them as examples of poverty, not as people in their own right. The big word for it is fungibility: the definition of which is a person or thing that's just as easily interchangeable with another of the same type. And this idea that we are all substitutable for another can happen just as readily at London's glamorous fashion week
as it can in the slums of Accra. No, we want to complain. I am not just a type. I am not just my body. I am not a thing. I am a human being whose representation cannot be owned or traded or giggled at or even sympathised with. No: to use religious language: I have a soul. And you are stealing a piece of it away.

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