Before there was Photoshop II …. The Cottingley Fairies

Wow, well seems there are other people out there that like the topic other then me. Thanks for all the links to other examples. And pointing out that there is actually an exhibit at the  Metropolitan Museum of Art called fake it.

Before there was photoshop, there was Man Ray. One of the world’s most original photographers, Ray was tireless experimenter. In fact, his work was so inventive that he eventually left the camera behind altogether, creating his surreal “Rayographs” entirely in the darkroom.

More about Man Ray soon (first need to check out about image rights etc)

The practice of doctoring photographs has existed since the medium was invented. Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop at The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the first major exhibition devoted to the history of manipulated photography before the digital age.

– Metropolitan Museum of Art October 11, 2012—January 27, 2013


More examples of early photo manipulation

So thanks again every one that sent me all the cool links and stuff (more soon) now back on track to today’s topic

The Cottingley Fairies

Of course any collection of old manipulated photos wouldn’t be complete with out The Cottingley Fairies. In early 1920 a series of photos of fairies captured the attention of the world. The photos had been taken by two young girls, the cousins Frances Griffith and Elsie Wright, while playing in the garden of Elsie’s Cottingley village home. Photographic experts examined the pictures and declared them genuine. Spiritualists promoted them as proof of the existence of supernatural creatures, and despite criticism by sceptics, the pictures became among the most widely recognised photos in the world. Even Sherloch Homes author The pictures came to the attention of writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who used them to illustrate an article on fairies he had been commissioned to write for the Christmas 1920 edition of The Strand Magazine. Conan Doyle, as a spiritualist, was enthusiastic about the photographs, and interpreted them as clear and visible evidence of psychic phenomena. Public reaction was mixed; some accepted the images as genuine, but others believed they had been faked. It was only decades later, in the late 1970s, that the photos were definitively debunked.


#1. Frances and the Fairies. July 1917. “The negative was a little over-exposed. The waterfall and rocks are about 7 Meters   behind Frances, who is standing in shallow water inside the bank of the beck. The colouring of the fairies was described by the girls as shades of green, lavender and mauve, most marked in the wings and fading to almost pure white in the limbs and drapery.”

#2. Elsie and the Gnome. September 1917.  “Elsie was playing with the gnome and beckoning it to come on to her knee. The gnome leapt up just as Frances, who had the camera, snapped the shutter. He is described as wearing black tights, a reddish jersey and a pointed bright red cap. Elsie said there was no perceptible weight, though when on the bare hand the feeling is like a ‘little breath’. The wings were more moth-like than the fairies and of a soft neutral tint. Elsie explained that what seem to be markings on his wings are simply his pipes, which he was swinging in his grotesque little left hand.”

#3. Frances and the Leaping Fairy. August 1920 “The fairy is leaping up from the leaves below and hovering for a moment—it had done so three or four times. Rising a little higher than before, Frances thought it would touch her face, and involuntarily tossed her head back. The fairy’s light covering appears to be close fitting: the wings were lavender in colour.”

#4. Fairy Offering a Posy to Elsie. August 1920 “The fairy is standing almost still, poised on the bush leaves. The wings were shot with yellow. An interesting point is shown in this photograph: Elsie is not looking directly at the sprite. The reason seems to be that the human eye is disconcerting. If the fairy be actively moving it does not matter much, but if motionless and aware of being gazed at then the nature-spirit will usually withdraw and apparently vanish. With fairy lovers the habit of looking at first a little sideways is common.”

#5. Fairies and Their Sun-Bath. August 1920 “This is especially remarkable as it contains a feature quite unknown to the girls. The sheath or cocoon appearing in the middle of the grasses had not been seen by them before, and they had no idea what it was. Fairy observers of Scotland and the New Forest, however, were familiar with it and described it as a magnetic bath, woven very quickly by the fairies and used after dull weather, in the autumn especially. The interior seems to be magnetised in some manner that stimulates and pleases.”

A few years ago I bought my wife parodied book  written by Terry Jones and Brian Froud, in 1994 Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book. Based on the life of a young English lady collecting pressed fairies like others collected pressed flowers. Its a fun read with great art work if you know a little about the history of collecting fairies at the bottom of an English garden.

Images used are from Creative commons or the public domain as they were published before 1923 in America. According to American law, all works published in this country before 1923 are in the public domain. I had a lot more images I wanted to post but couldn’t verifies the first date of publishing so I guess that will be a future project.

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