In Untold Stories

THE ART OF DOCTORING PHOTOS PRIOR TO PHOTOSHOP

cottingley fairies

Two cameras, five photographs, and a children’s book were all that it took to fool the world. Two little girls managed to convince the world that fairy tales exist and paranormal lies just around the corner… The Cottingley Fairies appeared a century ahead of their time.

Before the age of Facebook,  Photoshop, and prior to the smartphone, there were the Cottingley Fairies. A series of five photographs appearing to prove that fairies exist. In what may well be the case of the oldest doctored photos in history, one set of snaps fooled people into believing in the paranormal for decades…

Cottingley Fairies

Although photography began as early as the 1800s, photos remained a rare art form well into the 1900s. Expensive, difficult to manage and not readily available to the general public, most people had few snaps taken of themselves during their lifetime. And even fewer had access to a camera.

In 1917, a nine-year-old girl arrived in the UK with her mother to stay in the village of Cottingley, England with cousins. Her father was away fighting in the first world war. Little Frances Griffiths loved playing by the stream with her older cousin, Elsie Wright, then sixteen. They used to return home and tell their parents that they’d been ‘playing with the fairies all day’.

Then, one day Frances and Elsie went out playing in the garden, as usual, only this time with Elsie’s father’s camera in tow. What they returned with that day would shock and amaze the world for decades to come. When they returned from the stream, they brought back them a set of photographs, the likes of which had never been seen before. Frances appeared in the snaps surrounded by what appeared to be fairies. Elsie’s father dismissed the photo as nothing more than a childish prank. The photos were forgotten and the girls carried on playing with the camera.

A couple of months later, the pair returned with yet another set of photographs, this time the fairies were much more convincing than the previous ones. Whilst Elsie’s father maintained that the photos to were nothing more than a foolish joke, her mother believed them to be real.

The rest of the world hears of the Cottingley Fairies (and Sherlock Holmes’ writer promotes them)

By 1919, Elsie’s mother had shown the photos to a number of fairy intrigue societies. It was around this time that the photos caught the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. What is most surprising about this story is that the fairies would most likely have remained in obscurity had it not been for the author of the Sherlock Holmes books.

A strong believer in spiritualism, he found the photos to be conclusive proof that fairies existed. He found the photos fascinating and published them within a high definition and widely circulated newspaper. What’s more is that he added his stamp of approval, claiming that he believed the photos to be genuine. The world remained intrigued well into the 1920s and for generations to come.

However, by the 1980s it was all over. In the words of Sherlock Holmes, ‘the jig was up’ by the end of the 1980s. During a rare interview with the magazine The Unexplained, Elsie and Frances admitted that the majority of the photos were fake. They explained that they had created the photos using cardboard cutouts, hatpins and artistic angles. Whilst Elsie said that the fifth and final photo was fake, Frances always insisted that it was real…

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Sources and further reading: PetaPixel, Wikipedia, BBC

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