Capturing the Soul

Well, do you know that thing Benedict Anderson says about identity?


Well, he’s talking about like, say, a baby picture. So you pick up this picture, this two-dimensional image, and you say, “That’s me.”  Well, to connect this baby in this weird little image with yourself living and breathing in the present, you have to make up a story like, “This was me when I was a year old, and then later I had long hair, and then we moved to Riverdale, and now here I am.” So it takes a story that’s actually a fiction to make you and the baby in the picture identical to create your identity.

And the funny thing is, our cells are completely regenerating every seven years. We’ve already become completely different people several times over, and yet we always remain quintessentially ourselves.

Lisa Moore and Carole Dawson, “The Aging Paradox”, Chapter 7,
Waking Life film by Richard Linklater

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

After the advent of photography many indigenous peoples worldwide wouldn’t allow a photographic portrait to be taken because they felt the camera would capture their soul. In some ways photography does capture a soul because it’s a document of perception. Often it is misused to perceive one thing when the reality is really another.

But the false stories are often due to advertising or are created by the mental stories that we hold on to for  identity. We may believe that our mothers never paid attention to us, yet looking at photos taken at different occasions may indicate something else. We may blame our fathers for something, when it may be that no one is to blame.

Family photographs are a tool into our personal exploration. They can help us to see what is there and what isn’t. They can trigger reality or put an end to a fable. In one workshop we were looking at a photo of a first communion celebration. The man whose photo it was was proud to have a photo of him, his father, his grandfather, and a favorite priest. When I noticed a girl in the background, coming out of the house I asked about her. He blew up, “What’s she doing in my picture? That’s MY photo, of MY special day. My sister wasn’t supposed to be there.” The photo was taken over 50 years ago. He hadn’t noticed his sister in the background before. His reaction spoke far more than 1000 words about his role in the family and sense of value.

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