The Cottingley Fairies
The Cottingley Fairies appear in a series of five photographs taken by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, two young cousins who lived in England. In 1917. When the first two photographs were shown, public reaction was mixed; some accepted the images as genuine, but others believed they had been faked.
In the early 1980s Elsie and Frances admitted that the photographs were faked, using cardboard cutouts of fairies copied from a popular children's book of the time. However, Frances maintained that the fifth and final photograph was genuine. Do APUG members have any thoughts on this? If we tried to replicate this on film today, could we do a more convincing job?
I understand that no less a person than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame was convinced that they were genuine and it took many years and the analytical photographic skills of the late Mr Crawley to reveal the truth that they were fake.
Testament to the skills of the illusionists or lack of forensic skills in the photographic community? I cannot say
Of course fairies exist. How else would those little pictures get drawn onto the film in your cameras?
I don't know about fairies but I can certainly show you photographic proof that I have an identical twin.
If a skeptical person looked at my photo a little more closely, he might be able to see evidence of fakery but I would counter by showing you the original negative. Even so, there might still be plenty of evidence of fakery.
That, having been said, I think my photos are still way more convincing than the fairy photos.
As an undergrad while taking an Art History Survey course the professor had a habit of showing slides, say a Carolingian stone monument or a piece of jewelry etc and then ask us simple questions, what is it? In the middle of one long lecture on early Celtic art or some such which included lots of Barrows etc, she showed a picture of a stone wall covered in ivy. Asking what is it? Lots of speculating, theorizing etc, to which she replied with a straight face," This is the location of the last confirmed sighting of the king of the faeries." then click on the next slide without missing a beat. BTW she was extremely humorous-less throughout the year, very strict etc this was her one treat. A simple plain old farmer's wall to which we'd applied so so much speculation.
Thanks for that link Clive, really enjoyed it! While I don't believe in Faeries (or maybe I do!) I am still enamored by these photos from a couple of girls with wonderful imaginations. My own daughter was really taken by the books from Ida Rentoul Outhwaite (sp) when she was a young tacker.
i remember seeing a book about those years ago -- could not believe that anyone was fooled, and as to that 5th one that is supposedly real? Yeah sure, you betchya ---
I used to be heavily into magic and Houdini, who was friends with Doyle for a time. Despite the supernatural never appearing in a Sherlock Holmes story, Doyle believed in the supernatural. I think this lead to a falling out between him and Houdini, who regularly debunked psychics and other such claims.
There is a short treatment on the Cottingley Fairies in James Randi's book Flim Flam.
People believed some odd things in the 1970s as well. Take Kirlian photography. Also, there was a technique that I cannot remember the name, but involved concealing a small tube with a bit of negative in ones hand, and pointing a camera (usually a Polaroid) toward ones forehead to produce an amazing "supernatural" photo.
I am reminded of one of my favorite stories about Houdini's relationship with Doyle. Mrs. Conan Doyle fancied herself as a spirit medium and was fond of "Automatic Writing" whereby she would supposedly give control of her body to the spirit she wished to commune with.
Originally Posted by Truzi
Houdini had a session with Mrs. Doyle where she supposedly contacted the spirit of his deceased mother. She wrote a long, emotionally moving message, supposedly under the influence of his mothers spirit. However, Houdini was not convinced.
First, the message written by Mrs. Doyle called him by the name "Harry." His mother, Cecilia Weisz, never called him by the name "Harry," always by his given name "Erich," which, in his mother's native language of Hungarian or German, might sound like "Air-eeh" to a native English speaker.
Second, the message was closed with the sign of a cross. Cecilia Weisz was a devout Jew. If she would have signed a message with any religious symbol, it would have been a Star of David, not a Christian Cross. Further, she was never known to have signed any letter or message in that way while she was alive.
Third, and finally, the message never contained the word "forgive," a secret code word arranged between Houdini and his mother before her death. Without that code word, Houdini would have never considered the message to be genuine. In fact, as I remember the story, this was probably the greatest source of friction between Houdini and the Doyles. While the Doyles insisted that the message from Cecilia came from the Great Beyond, Houdini knew that it could not be genuine and was upset that anybody, knowingly or unknowingly, would deceive him in such a way.
As to the Cottingley Fairies, the way I understand, those photos were never meant to be considered evidence of the existence of fairies. They were just two young girls playing around, having fun. They were never meant to be made public. The first ones were kept in the family for a couple of years before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and others heard about them and publicized them.
I believe that, like Abagail Williams and Betty Parris, the two young girls who made the first claims of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusets in 1692, once such a famous and respected person such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle proclaims to all that the pictures are genuine, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths felt compelled to say that the fairies were real.
In fact, as I have read, this is exactly what the Elsie said in her 1985 interview: "Two village kids and a brilliant man like Conan Doyle – well, we could only keep quiet." Frances was quoted as saying, "I never even thought of it as being a fraud – it was just Elsie and I having a bit of fun and I can't understand to this day why they were taken in – they wanted to be taken in."
Personally, I think that two young girls took some pretty neat photographs. They are imaginative, creative and fun. Considering the state of the art in 1917, they are pretty darned good. If I had kids who took photos like that, I would be pretty proud of them...
... but I would never even consider them to be pictures of real fairies.