Can souls be trapped in photographs?

George de la Warr

It is a widely accepted fact that people from many cultures, from the Aborigines of the Australian Outback to some present-day Native Americans, refuse to be photographed because they believe that a photograph can "steal" a soul, permanently entrapping it within the film. It's easy to scoff at such an idea, dismissing this belief as simple-minded ignorance or fear of a misunderstood technology.
But is there more to this belief than meets the eye?

Whether or not this belief is pure superstition, history records at least one experiment which seems to have uncovered a strange psychic link between a person and his photograph.

This experiment was the brainchild of controversial British scientist, George de la Warr. De la Warr, who was regarded as a luminary in the allegedly pseudoscientific field of radionics, is perhaps most famous for patenting a camera that could supposedly detect and cure disease using energy frequencies. But it was an experiment condicted by de la Warre in Oxford, England, in 1965 which still captures imaginations even to this day, opening the doors to the possibility of soul theft by camera and photographic voodoo.

De la Warr's experiment was based on the theory (first proposed by Dr. Albert Abrams in the early 20th century) that every living and non-loving thing radiates a form of energy, and that electrons were the basic element of life itself. He postulated that even photographs radiated energy, and that this may establish some sort of link between a person and his picture. In August of 1965, de la Warr decided to put his theory to the test.

Albert Abrams, the father of radionics

De la Warr's partner in this bizarre experiment was a scientist in Fairfield, Connecticut, named John Hay. Hay had been instructed to photograph a 17-year-old boy from Oxford named Rex. At De la Warr Laboratories, the teenage boy was hooked up to a modified polygraph machine, designed by de la Warr to monitor minute changes in the human body.

The experiment involved shining a bright light at Rex's photo in Connecticut and to see if it coincided with any physical changed to the human test subject, more than 3,000 miles away. In order to rule out the possibility that any changes might be the result of the power of suggestion, Rex was made unaware of the details of the experiment.

De la Warr and Hay synchronized their watches by transatlantic telephone and then John Hay flashed a light onto Rex's photograph in Connecticut for a period of twenty minutes, beginning at precisely 11:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. Meanwhile, de la Warr closely monitored his highly-sensitive polygraph machine for any signs of physiological changes.

One of de la Warr's radionic devices

According to de la Warr the experiment was a complete success; Rex had exhibited "dramatic" physiological changes which corresponded to the shining of intense light onto his photograph. "The shining of the light on the boy's photo apparently triggered energy releases in his body thousands of miles distant," reported de la Warr.

Unfortunately, de la Warr never sought to repeat his experiment; he was convinced that his theory was proven correct. Unfortunately, considering that de la Warr also made his living by selling "radionic" machines intended to diagnose and heal diseases, one can't help but wonder if the same results would have been achieved using a machine built by somebody other than George de la Warr himself.

What do I think of de la Warr's experiment, or the possibility that photographs can capture the soul (or at least part of it)?

I'm not 100% convinced either way. For starters, the whole premise of capturing souls by camera brings up so many unanswerable questions. For instance, what happens if a camera takes a picture of just an arm or a leg? Does the whole soul get captured, or just a piece of it? What about a picture taken of your insides by a colonoscope, CAT scan or other medical device? What happens if two photographers take a picture of the same person at the same exact time? Does half the soul get captured on each picture? What happens when NASA takes a picture of the Earth from space? Are we all screwed?

NASA: stealing souls by the billions?

The only thing that prevents me from being a complete skeptic is a strange incident I experienced as a child. It's a memory that still sends shivers down my spine.

One evening my parents were away and I was at home being watched by my older brother, Dave. As brothers often do, we began to argue about one thing or another. We stood in the kitchen screaming at each other and things got heated. I don't recall what the fight was about, or what was said exactly, but I remember reaching a boiling point, telling my brother something along the lines of "I wish you were dead!"

The moment those words left my mouth we both heard a loud crash in the living room. We were both scared shitless at what we saw; out of the numerous pictures hanging on the wall of family members and relatives, only one had fallen to the floor and shattered. And we found the picture and busted frame clear on the opposite side of the room from where it had been hung, almost as it had been thrown by an unseen force. It was a photograph of just two kids dressed in their Sunday best-- me and my brother Dave.