“To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder – a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.”
― Susan Sontag, On Photography
Sometimes when I have taken a photo like the one above, it does feel like I’ve captured a facet of the person’s personality they would not want the world to see. I was running out of ideas for my 365 project and had thought of doing a portrait. I had called a friend over for an informal photo session. I had taken a few smiling portraits and we had got to talking and during a pause she had fallen into pensiveness, thinking perhaps about something serious. I liked this candid shot more than the smiling, sugary ones and had decided to process it to make it look grungier, darker. Needless to say, my friend didn’t like it when it appeared on my 365 page 😦 Afterwards, whenever I’ve taken a candid shot, capturing a look, a mood, an expression that was come up unbidden, I had always felt like like a voyeur. Though, not exactly like a murderer 🙂
Back in the days when photography was still in its infancy, some people would refuse to be photographed. They thought being photographed would steal their soul leaving them bereft and soulless. We now know that’s not true (even though if we look at some celebrities, we might be tempted to think they have lost their soul somewhere…). But, maybe Susan Sontag has a point, maybe we are peeking into their soul and capturing it and making it known, in a way they would not have wanted. Maybe, it is symbolic possession.