There were some ancient cultures who feared that photographers were able to capture their souls in a photograph and refused to be photographed or acted with anger and violence if someone attempted to photograph them. You can laugh now about such backward thinking, but it's not entirely gone from society, in fact it's seemingly on the rise.
A couple in New York recycling their souls.
A couple in New York City recycling their souls. Image by: Eric Gross / Creative Commons
Now I totally get the modesty and shyness thing. I hate being photographed. I don't have self-image issues, but I just happen to look like a giant lumbering dork with a big dopey look on my face when photographed. I'm fine with how I look in a mirror, but on film I just don't cut it. So I'm not completely insensitive to those averse to having their photo taken.
Definitely a part of western culture, photo aversion is virtually unknown in Asia, where it's indeed difficult to shoot a crowd scene without half the people smiling and making a V sign with their fingers. In Canada an entirely different sign is the norm, though not using quite so many fingers.
The bird is the word.
Even with a group of photographers. - Image by: Troy More / All rights reserved
Nothing magnifies this worse than when children are involved. It's difficult to document the world around you and at the same time edit out all the children, but this is exactly what some busybodies would want. Interestingly, I never get this complaint from actual parents of any who's appeared in my photograph. In fact I've gotten the most flak from people riding in on their high horses after seeing me display photos of children that I was specifically asked to shoot. In fact there have been occasions where I was looked at suspiciously for taking shots of my own kid.
Let me make this perfectly clear. A photographer has every right to photograph someone in public, and a child in a playground scene, marching in a parade, or playing soccer is in no danger whatsoever due to their being photographed. Not in any logical person's mind anyway. The self righteous who like to make a big scene about how they are protecting the children have their own agenda.
The simple joys of playing in a giant sprinkler. Nothing else. Image by: Troy More / All rights reserved
The reactions to someone carrying an SLR is just ridiculous "security theatre" sometimes. I once took my daughter to a public pool and with a Canon SLR took some photos of her practising her swimming. All around me other parents were doing the same with phones and small point and shoots. Funny enough though, I was the one jumped on by staff asking what the heck I thought I was doing. I was doing exactly what most of the other parents were doing, though at a slightly better resolution. Pro tip to swimming pool personnel, the person with the big bulky, impossible to conceal SLR who is chatting with his kid is not your biggest worry. Your biggest worry is lurking in the change rooms with a camera phone, but you seemed to ignore that.
Probably the most laughable incident was when a friend of mine was photographing a marching band in a major parade, and the mother of one of the participants kept moving along to block him from taking a photo of that band.
The world creates about two billion photos per day. You, your friends, and your family are needles in an enormous haystack. Stop worrying about having a lens pointed at you. The chances that it will actually wind up even making it to the photographer's Facebook page, let alone somewhere that will attract more than a handful of viewers are slim.
Photographers have been documenting the world since the early 1800s. Our views of the world around us are shaped in great part due to the images they create. Much as we sometimes feel uncomfortable being pushed to the front of the page, we cannot opt out of that world. We are part of it, and it would be a shame to erase those tiny moments of ourselves from history. God help us if a century from now all that was left of us was a few selfies and a Walmart portrait session. Unlike taking photos of people in public, that would a crime.