Cottingley Fairies

Discussion in 'General Forteana' started by liveinabin1, Jan 4, 2009.

  1. plusk

    plusk Devoted Cultist

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    Please enlighten my profound ignorance on the subject. Is it possible to rephotograph a glass plate photograph? I mean you would have to rephotograph the negative, which would actually be the film itself?

    Also the photographs were passed as authentic by Kodak. Presumably they would have spotted a montage photograph.
     
  2. pTerryH

    pTerryH Junior Acolyte

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    Plusk: sort of, but perhaps not in the exact sense you mean, because you seem to have confused different processes.

    The photographs most of us were taking until recently, when digital photography swept in, involved
    # creating a (flexible) film negative in the camera (i.e.'taking the picture');
    # 'developing' that negative to make it permanent, and then;
    # making positive prints from it (by shining light through it on to photographic (light-sensitive) paper and in turn;
    # 'fixing' those positive images to make them permanent.
    [I used to do a bit of all this at one time, which was great fun.]

    Making the positive print didn't adversely effect the negative original, so you could keep it, and make as many prints from it as you wanted. Negatives deteriorated slowly but so long as they were kept in good conditions (dry, not too hot, not too much light exposure, free from mould, etc) they lasted for decades.

    Alternatively, slightly different 'transparency' film could be used in the camera. In this case the original film itself was transformed by the development process to produce a transparent positive, through which you could then shine or 'project' light to cast an image on to a surface. Home transparencies or 'slides' were usually made from frames measuring 24 x 35mm, the same size as most domestic negative films, but professional photographers often used larger film to produce transparencies of, say, 100 x 100mm because (for reasons I won't bore you with) this could produce better quality large pictures for magazines, etc.
    [I've taken 35mm transparencies for semi-professional purposes - it's a damned sight harder as there's less leeway with the exposures and less opportunity for darkroom adjustment without a printing stage. I also used to use professionally provided transparencies of various sizes for illustrated postcard, magazine and book publishing.]

    Positive transparencies would also keep for decades if not mistreated, and copies very nearly as good as the original could be made by flashing light through it on to another unexposed film using the appropriate equipment.

    In either of these two categories, pictures could be 'faked' in various ways, either by treating the print or film directly with paint, chemicals, heat etc (the book cover artist Chris Yates used to create some spectacularly surreal artworks by these methods - see old Arrow SF paperbacks of the 70's), but most often by making multiple exposures either in camera or in the darkroom.

    The Cottingley Fairy photographs, however, were made not on film, but as mentioned on glass plates. Such plates, often the same size as the intended final product, were coated with light-sensitive chemicals, carefully loaded inside light-proof casings into the camera, and then exposed to take the picture. They were than taken out (still encased), and developed in the darkroom.
    [This I've never done, though I'd love to have a go.]

    Depending on which of several processes was involved, this could result either in a glass negative from which good multiple prints could be made (just like the print-film process described above), or a positive image on the plate itself (unique, like the transparancy process, but not as readily projectable). To make copies of this positive image you would effectively have to re-photograph it, with (at that time, anyway) some loss of quality in the copies, which could be more positive plates or negatives plus prints. I'm not sure whether Arthur Wright used processes producing positive originals or more copyable negative ones (he could have used both with the same camera), but some references imply the latter. However, many of the published versions were copied from positive prints, not the originals.

    There are a couple of reasons for using comparatively big, heavy, awkward, fragile glass plates instead of lighter film (which itself was invented pretty early on). One was that film can stretch and distort slightly, not usually a problem unless you want to take very precise measurements - which is why astronomers continued to expose (big) glass plates until quite recently for measuring exact star positions, etc. (I gather the last factory making them has just ceased production, but many thousands of plate exposures remain in astronomical archives.)

    The other is that, while photographic film was quite difficult to make outside of specialist workshops, ordinary* plates could easily be created from plain glass and (noxious) chemicals by the photographer himself (* this didn't apply to modern astronomical plates, which used highly sophisticated, precisely appplied emulsions). Many amateurs used to do this as well as develop their exposed pictures. Elsie's father Arthur Wright certainly routinely developed his own exposures: it's unclear if he also made his own plates, but in any case the later series of photos were made on plates supplied by a third party (Edward Gardner) and developed by Arthur.

    Phew! That's probably a lot more than you wanted to know, plusk. To finally address your questions:

    # A competent darkroom operator could certainly copy original positive or negative plates as well as films and also make multiple exposures - note that despite her tender years Elsie, apart from being a good, trained artist, had actually been professionally employed as a darkroom operator to combine photos of dead WW1 soldiers with photos of their grieving families into composite images, prior to the appearance of the Fairy pictures. However, all of the Fairy plates were apparently developed by Arthur, not Elsie, ruling out post-exposure manipulation unless Arthur himself was complicit.

    # Kodak didn't (at least at the time) authenticate the photos, saying there were too many ways to fake such things, though apparently un-named "expert photographers" reportedly declared the originals showed no physical signs of interference or multiple exposures, and Elsie with her professional expertise in these matters would have known perfectly well that such fakery would be easily detectable, but

    # no plate manipulations would be necessary if the 'Fairies' were actual objects that had been in the original scene. There is of course strong if not 100% conclusive evidence that these objects were pictures of fairies, cut out of a particular children's book, touched up by Elsie, mounted on hatpins and deployed around the carefully posed human subjects in the scenes photographed.
     
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  3. plusk

    plusk Devoted Cultist

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    Gosh. Thanks PTerryH!,

    Far from telling me more than I wanted to know you've left me hungry for more. It's so great to have an exposition from an expert, especially one who writes so lucidly.

    Thanks also for putting me right on Kodak. I had confused them with Harold Snelling, the expert who had stated the photographs were genuine mainly on the basis that the figures had moved during exposure. The thought that a slight breeze could have moved the limbs of paper cut-out figures never seems to have occurred to him.

    It is also fascinating to follow the discussion that this thread has generated, to see how different people view the same evidence. I first saw the photographs when I was 10 years old and it was immediately obvious to me that cutouts were involved and that the girl's elongated hand was just the juxtaposition of two hands. It is difficult for me to understand that anyone could have thought otherwise.

    Returning to your post, I understand that the balance of probabilities is that we are looking at photographs of something real "out there" rather than at a manipulation of the photographs themselves. So do you have an opinion on what the 5th photograph shows? The figure to the right could be a paper cut-out, but the figure in the centre - could it have been montaged/double exposed - which would mean Arthur was involved?
     
  4. tilly50

    tilly50 Ephemeral Spectre

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    Has anyone ever found out what book that the fairies were said to have come from?

    If Elsie cut them out of a book, what did she do to them to "touch them up"? Could she have actually drawn them all herself?

    Elsie appears to have been a very talented young lady, how old was she when she was set to work creating montage photos? Did she persue her talents into later life?
     
  5. plusk

    plusk Devoted Cultist

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    Hi Tilly,

    The book was "Princess Mary's Gift Book" - article about it here.

    http://www.cottingleyconnect.org.uk/gift.htm

    As the article says, there was only one line drawing of fairies in the book and all the accounts I've read say Frances drew her own fairies (allegedly inspired by the book). In those days books were expensive and treated with respect so I doubt if she would have cut up a book anyway.
     
  6. Mister_Awesome

    Mister_Awesome Ephemeral Spectre

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    I believe I saw something that said that there were ballet dancers or something in the book she used as models for her own drawings, which she cut out and mounted on hat pins.
     
  7. bosskR

    bosskR Thunder Lyger

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    Does anyone on this board really not think the fairies are fake!?
     
  8. The late Pete Younger

    The late Pete Younger Venerable and Missed

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  9. plusk

    plusk Devoted Cultist

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    Tread softly guys, those are people's dreams you're treading on.
     
  10. escargot

    escargot Beloved of Ra

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    The girls said that the photos represented real fairies that they'd seen. So even if the photos weren't genuine snaps of fairies, the fairies were still out there, if you knew where to find them. ;)

    Plenty of people do believe in fairies in their various forms.
     
  11. gattino

    gattino Justified & Ancient

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    I think the "but one was real" claim sounds like a recent bit of revisionism to me.

    Living in the northwest "granada" area and being just about old enough to remember interviews with the sisters being covered by regional tvs own Bob Smithee, the way I recall it was that till the bitter end they claimed the pics were real and not fake. Until one died and the other now very elderly sister came clean to our Bob that they had indeed faked them. The caveat was "but we really did see fairies, we just knew no one would believe us". It was decidely not "but one of the pictures is real". This forum is the first time I've heard it.
     
  12. AMPHIARAUS

    AMPHIARAUS Ephemeral Spectre

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    Agreed

    I also remember years ago a show that compared the photos to pics in one book and they were identical, not similar drawings.

    Lets face it, those pics are clearly bogus and the girl(s) are liars by admission. Case closed unless you want to believe fairies are actually deco style, 2D and made of paper :roll:

    Which also leads to an analysis of old photos of phenomenon - which seem to have a period feel to them - another thread I think.
     
  13. escargot

    escargot Beloved of Ra

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    Here's another thread on photographing fairies.
     
  14. TheQuixote

    TheQuixote Justified & Ancient

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    The daughter of Frances Griffiths made the claim on the recent Antiques Roadshow from Belfast. She spoke about how her mother had never really discussed the Cottingley episode with her and only came clean about the hoax when Elsie had admitted they had faked the photos to one of her sons in the early 80s.

    She was the one who said that Frances Griffiths was adamant that they hadn't faked the last photo - which was taken a little distance away from the beck, in a meadow.

    Personally, I think what was most telling about the AR appearance with Frances' family was the point her daughter made early on in the interview. Elsie had been told off by her father on more than one occasion for falling into Cottingley Beck. She took the camera with her to prove that she was looking for fairies. They were never intended to be shown outside of the family or, in her words, "public consumption".

    This seems - at least to me - it started out as a family in-joke that spiralled out of their control when Elsie's mother (someone who was interested in the paranormal) brought it to the attention of others at a Theosophical Society meeting.
     
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  15. lordmongrove

    lordmongrove Justified & Ancient

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  16. Krepostnoi

    Krepostnoi Hoarse Bronzeman

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    What a terribly sad story. And the detail about his father's WW1 occupation is horrifying. You can see why a man might want to believe in fairies, all things considered.
     
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  17. escargot

    escargot Beloved of Ra

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    It reads like a bit of a farce. The girls knew a lot about photography that most people back then didn't, as one's father worked in a photographic studio. Just that fact should've set alarm bells ringing.

    Also, Conan Doyle's involvement recalls his interest in the fraudulent 'spirit photographer' William Hope, exposed by Harry Price and others.
     
  18. rynner2

    rynner2 Great Old One

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    Cottingley: why the village is in thrall to a fairies tale
    David Barnett
    17 July 2017 • 6:27am

    One hundred years after the photographs were taken, why is one community still transfixed by the hoax? By David Barnett
    At the bottom of Luke Horsman’s garden, there are fairies. Or at least, there were, a century ago, when two young girls unwittingly created a modern fable that brought together two worlds; the relatively new one of photography and the ages-old sphere of spirituality and folklore, entrancing as redoubtable a figure as Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle.

    Mr Horsman, 35, lives in Main Street, a narrow road of terraced houses, in the village of Cottingley in West Yorkshire. He’s an illustrator and is working on a graphic novel called, with perhaps a nod to the idyllic outlook from his end-of-terrace house, Edengate. But he had no idea when he and Ruth purchased the property in November 2015 that he was buying a slice of the history of the famous Cottingley Fairies.

    “It wasn’t mentioned to us at all,” says Mr Horsman, leading me to the kitchen, which overlooks the garden behind the house. “It was only when we moved in and one of the neighbours said to us, ‘Ah, you’re the ones who’ve bought the fairy house’ that we had any inkling. I had no idea what they were talking about at first.”

    etc...

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/photography/what-to-see/cottingley-village-thrall-fairies-tale/
     
  19. Ghost In The Machine

    Ghost In The Machine Abominable Snowman

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    Fairies (called that and other things) are a common phenomenon in Yorkshire lore. For whatever reason. I love that book 'Troublesome Things' that puts them in context and suggests earlier 'sightings' may well, culturally, be the same thing as 20thC alien abductions.

    The whole idea of a paranormal, parallel, magical world must have been immensely attractive after the horror of War - a point often made, but still true. Tolkien took it and ran with it in a much more creative and positive way, at the same time.

    The "We faked some of it to make people believe us" reminds me of the Enfield Poltergeist story. When blatantly caught out, that response seems to be a kneejerk.
     
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  20. Coal

    Coal Polymath Renaissance Man

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    Possibly a direct descendent of the Vikings' beliefs regarding elves and their world.
     
  21. Ghost In The Machine

    Ghost In The Machine Abominable Snowman

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    Yes, that's what made me think of Tolkien. That whole idea that there are lost, forgotten, shadowy people who were hear before us and have left/faded/are leaving. You can sense it in some Anglo Saxon poetry that Tolkien knew well.

    My mother was a farmer's daughter - born in the 1920s - and she had a sort of ritual for 'appeasing' the fairies. (Leaving food out for them). Even as a child, I never could tell whether she really believed it or it was just a sort of superstitious thing she did.

    Might be a farming thing, too, as the friend I had who swears she saw what she thought was a fairy's house in a very remote part of Cumbria, was also the daughter of a Yorkshire farmer...

    A friend of my husband's was one of those English people - probably not of farming stock - who bought a small, remote Welsh farmstead in the 1980s when they were cheap. He tells this story of when he arrived there, being told not to mess with something on his land. I think it was the course of a stream, or something, as it pissed off the fairies and Bad Things Will Happen. He thought it was BS, did something he shouldn't and Bad Things Happened. He had to revert whatever it was and he claimed the bad luck reversed. Anyone reading or hearing that would think "Psychological", of course, but it does seem a common leitmotif. Don't feck with the fairies. Of course, folklore fairies are dangerous, quite sinister - like the elves. Not the sweet 1920s' flappers of Cottingley with their fashionable hair dos and cute looks.

    And I read somewhere that folklorists thought East Riding farming people the most superstitious in England. Am seeing the friend again next month - not seen her for ages. So if I get her alone I'll ask her to describe what it was she saw, somewhere up a mountain or something. She used to work in the Lake District and on her days off, walked great distances off the beaten tourist track... She changed jobs and I haven't seen her for a while, but will try and remember to ask her what it was she saw.
     
  22. GNC

    GNC King-Sized Canary

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    Any thoughts on those 1918 fairy photos in the FT 356? They look to have taken the same process, paper cutouts, and arranged them in strikingly similar ways to the Cottingley photos, except the Cottingley photos were not publicised until the following year. Was this a minor craze that was nipped in the bud when the bigger story swamped the other amateurs?
     
  23. Mythopoeika

    Mythopoeika I am a meat popsicle

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    I remember when I was a child, I found some old illustrated fairy books at my Grandma's house. I think my Mum had them when she was a child. I think they'd been bought secondhand, so they were already a bit 'aged' when she got them. Anyway...I distinctly remember a drawing in one book, which looked a lot like the fairy in the following image:

    [​IMG]
    I suspect that the Cottingley girls also had a copy of the same book, from which they coloured in and cut out the fairy pictures.
     
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  24. Shadowsot

    Shadowsot Devoted Cultist

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    The Cottingley fairy case is for me a prime example of how even very intelligent people can be caught out by a Hoax.
    Now, Doyle was already deep in the spiritualism of the time, but while he was not as skeptical as his once friend Harry Houdini he was still an intellectual and still good at investigation.
     
  25. EnolaGaia

    EnolaGaia I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ...

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    Has anyone definitively matched a fairy figure in the photos to a fairy illustration from a contemporary book (or other print artifact)?
     
  26. escargot

    escargot Beloved of Ra

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    Yes, I have seen side-by-side comparisons. Can't recall where though. I thought this was well-known.
     
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  27. CarlosTheDJ

    CarlosTheDJ Justified & Ancient

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    I know we live in different times, but looking at the photos now it's amazing that anyone was taken in by them.

    I guess most people saw them on low-quality newsprint?
     
  28. EnolaGaia

    EnolaGaia I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ...

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    Thanks ... I hadn't paid any attention to the Cottingley (and similarly vintage) fairy stuff in decades, so I wasn't certain how definitive the debunking had been.

    Same here ... Back in my youth I snorted derisively the first time I viewed the photos - amazed and disappointed anyone could possibly have taken them for 'real'.

    Since then I've come to appreciate the surprising extent to which new media and new types of media manipulation can repeatedly convince ordinary folks they've seen something 'real'. I'm not sure how much of this 'fake out the rubes' effect derives from (a) the audience's naivete concerning how how deep fakery can now extend versus (b) simply assuming face value novelty somehow guarantees authenticity.

    I imagine 50 - 100 years from now folks will wonder how anyone was taken in by PhotoShopped photos.
     
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  29. escargot

    escargot Beloved of Ra

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    Also, people back then weren't as tech-savvy as we are. Remember the expression 'The camera never lies?' People did actually believe that, when fakery was invented almost as soon as photography itself was.

    The father of one of the girls worked in a photographic studio so she could easily have picked up ideas, if not tips on how to make the images.
     
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  30. escargot

    escargot Beloved of Ra

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    Heh, my last post says more or less what EnolaGaia does, if less eloquently!

    My own home town was a centre for early 'spirit photography' which was debunked over and over again, not least by Harry Price, but was believed and defended by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Can only shake my head.
     

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