My grandfather was born in Abakan, and published several books on the history of the region. He visited Agafia several times by helicopter with my uncle, after the other members of her family had passed.
When I was around 15, he showed me a video of their first encounter with her, and to this day I cannot get the image of the pure terror on her face out of my mind. She had multiple visitors before, but something about this visit scared her so much that she hid inside for hours.
It turned out that this was the first visit where someone in the crew had brought video equipment (one of those big shoulder-mounted VHS cameras), and Agafia would later tell my grandfather that she thought this thing would 'steal her soul.' She wasn't shocked in amazement at the new technology, this was pure fear.
Reminds me of one of the early silent film The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station , which allegedly was so realistic that people ran out of the movie theater screaming.
It turned out that this was the first visit where someone in the crew had brought video equipment, and Agafia would later tell my grandfather that she thought this thing would 'steal her soul.'
Sorry? It might as well have been a log on his shoulder.
Now, if it was viewing video of herself on this camera that brought a look of "pure terror" to her face (that you can't get out of your mind to this day, no less) I could begin to understand, but if she was watching a video replay on the camera, then how was it being recorded?
With no prior knowledge of video or photography what basis would she have for belief that the random equipment on a videographers shoulder would "steal her soul"?
The video was shot on approach to her home/shack from the helicopter (which was a ways off). I called my dad to see if he can locate the video somehow (my grandfather passed away several months ago), and I'm trying to find the book he wrote which touches on this experience.
This is vague recollection at this point, but I do believe that the family did have knowledge of photography (my grandfather visited her 10+ years after this family became 'famous' through Russian press) and the father did not approve of their pictures being taken at first. I can see how that, combined with their deeply religious and isolated world view, could have been a cause for her superstition.
>"With no prior knowledge of video"
Not so fast, if you read the article:
"...the sin of television, which they encountered at the geologists' camp, proved irresistible for them..."
I agree that the account in the comments here did not give sufficient detail to determine if she had reason to connect something on a man's shoulder with the images she had seen in the television earlier, but she had some sort of prior exposure to video.
It isn't just "a bit Crocodile Dundee" - it is a genuine and persisting phenomenon (which happened to be mentioned in Crocodile Dundee).
Indigenous Australians to this day have very different beliefs about photography and filmography than most hn users would. Even though many of them live fairly modern lifestyles, it is considered fairly offensive in their culture to show images of people who have since passed away. Television broadcasts which include film of aboriginal people who have passed away are usually accompanied by a disclaimer that viewers may not want to watch.
Many Australian tribes don't name the dead by first name [1, 2], as a sign of respect and because it's too painful for the family. The no-images-rule has just very recently been derived from that practice. It isn't about photography or filmography, it's about names only.
This is actually common in many cultures. In South-East Asia I have heard this many times, that people have/had this belief that taking pictures of them "steal their souls". You can see it mentioned in a movie from Wong Kar Wai, Chungking Express, if I remember correctly, when the protagonist talks about his father.
I've always been fascinated by what people could mean when they say this. I believe many people mean 'the part of me that thinks' or 'the part of me that makes decisions' when they say souls... but what could it mean for that part of you to be stolen? An inability to think or make decisions? Or something about vanity and getting wrapped up in images of yourself? Or fascination with a device that looks like a big eyeball?
It'd really be great to know what people mean when they say that.
Nope, I think it stems from the idea that a representation of someone=someone.
I remember reading a book from an american guy who recalled what happened to him when he was travelling in another country. He suddenly realized that he had lost his wallet (it was stolen) and it contained pictures of his children inside. Those were just simple pictures and he could have made copies once coming back home, but instead he wandered in the dangerous quarters of the city to try to find back the pictures from his wallet. He could have been robbed or worse, but he explained he was not aware of those risks at that time because the only thing he was thinking about was that "I have to find my kids back". He made a clear association between the pictures and the persons.
He then said he could understand the saying regarding pictures and souls, since he went through this experience.
Yes. And my wife and I have found that a large number of people don't like being photographed. We always ask, we buy something from the person if we can, and many shake their heads or otherwise communicate no to us when we indicate we would like to take a photograph. I have had other tourists photographing past us while we ask. We respect what people ask - I'd be pretty unhappy having someone come up to me at home or work and try to take my photograph.
I was in Laos and Cambodia around 2001/2 and was advised when talking to hill tribes to always ask before taking pictures, the kids loved it, especially seeing themselves on a digital camera, however the older generations usually didnt want to be photgraphed (we were advised that it was usually for this reason but I never pushed it).
In an NPR interview someone mentioned that right after the words 'mother' and 'memory', in 1940 "the American public voted 'cellophane' as the third most beautiful word in the English language". Cellophane revolutionized food storage, and the gentleman in the OP recognized its usefulness.