In an answer that I recently wrote elsewhere on this site, I posited that photographs are used by J.K. Rowling in the Harry Potter books as a device to portray the subjects of the photograph in a specific light. I wrote that answer about Regulus Black, who was shown "smiling and waving" in a photograph before readers are told that he died hunting Horcruxes.

I recall (but don't have the books at hand) that, before Harry and the readers are told that he was a framed good guy (and are made to believe that he betrayed Harry's parents), Sirius was shown only by his mug shot, as a crazed and evil-looking man.

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Is there evidence in the Harry Potter books to support this theory? Is there any evidence against? Just because someone is evil (or a supporter of Voldemort) doesn't mean that they can't look friendly and nice in photographs -- has any Death Eater or other "bad guy" been shown nicely in a photo?

  • Not sure about the tagging after [author] and [work]. Any help is appreciated :)
    – Shokhet
    May 26, 2017 at 20:45
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    Not sure why this is a question. This is how photographs work: they show a person at a specific point in time. Whoever is taking the photograph gets to control when the photograph is taken: if they want someone to look evil, then they'll control which photographs are taken. There's nothing specific to Harry Potter here.
    – user111
    May 26, 2017 at 20:48
  • @Hamlet That's true, but pictures can also just be there. Most of the paintings in Hogwarts Castle, for instance, probably don't mean anything. So I guess what I mean to ask if there's evidence that pictures were (or were not) intentionally used in this manner. (Or, perhaps, if there's a Word of God on the matter.)
    – Shokhet
    May 26, 2017 at 20:54
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    I don't really understand what theory it is we're being asked to respond to. Is the theory that photographs portray people as they were when the photograph was being taken..? Or the fact photographs are used in-universe and by the author to show things about people? If so, I don't understand in what way that counts as a theory, since I'd agree with Hamlet -- that's how photos work. May 26, 2017 at 21:10
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    @Hamlet Oh, I see. I interpreted “device to portray the subjects of the photograph in a specific light” in-story, you interpreted it out-of-story. The question works either way. The fact that pictures move is an obvious way in which they are magical, but there may be a non-obvious way, possibly a way in which magic symbolizes the spin that can be put on a photograph. May 27, 2017 at 22:48

1 Answer 1


In Chamber of Secrets (p. 106) we read as follows:

Harry looked bemusedly at the photograph Colin was brandishing under his nose.

A moving, black-and-white Lockhart was tugging on an arm Harry recognized as his own. He was pleased to see that his photographic self was putting up a good fight and refusing to be dragged into view. As Harry watched, Lockhart gave up and slumped, panting, against the white edge of the picture.

This would seem to indicate that the demeanor of the subjects in wizard photographs is representative of their real life character traits.

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