Iconic Photos

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The Cottingley Fairies

with 30 comments

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In 1917, Elsie Wright, 16, and her cousin Frances Griffith, 10, borrowed a camera belonging to Elsie’s father and took two pictures of what the girls claimed were fairies in Cottingley Beck, England. When Mr. Wright saw fairies in the pictures, he considered them fake and banned Elsie from using the camera again. Her mother, Polly, however was convinced of their authenticity and publicized the photos. Initially, the images were authenticated by some of the leading photography experts of the time although Kodak was less convinced, arguing that there were many ways to fake images like these.

Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories and a believer in spiritualism, saw the photos, was convinced that they were genuine and wrote about them in The Strand in 1920. The article created a media storm and the girls took three more pictures showing fairies dancing and enjoying a sun bath.

It was only in 1978 that a researcher spotted that the fairies were identical to drawings in Princess Mary’s Gift Book, a children’s book published in 1917. Three years later the girls, then in their late seventies, admitted that they had staged four of the five images using paper cut-outs and hatpins. Frances continued to claim that the fifth image (below) was genuine; however, they insisted that they really had seen fairies.

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 28, 2009 at 4:06 am

30 Responses

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  1. The fifth picture looks the most fake of all to me.

    Stubsy

    August 30, 2009 at 3:11 pm

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  2. the fifth picture looks the most real to me. they’re all amazing.

    Lindsay

    September 24, 2009 at 9:47 pm

  3. Ok i totally think lindsay is right the fifth pic does look real!!! And if scientists can’t prove the pics are fake, then why should we try??? Leave the amazing unknown a mystery.

    Gabrielle

    September 26, 2009 at 6:04 pm

  4. Thats photo shopped as fuck

    Matt

    October 1, 2009 at 12:06 am

  5. They all look fake. Fairy figures’ exposures are different than the rest of the pics. But congratulations to the girls for keeping the world occupied with that for 64 years. They confessed that pictures were fake in 1981.

    Cem

    October 2, 2009 at 2:06 pm

  6. Sorry, didn’t read all the text. It’s already written in the last paragraph.

    Cem

    October 2, 2009 at 2:16 pm

  7. @Matt, either you’re a dumbass or a great comedic writer.

    Dano

    October 15, 2009 at 10:30 pm

  8. Remember…these photos were taken in 1907 by 10-yr. old and 16-yr. old girls. Computers had not yet been invented (Therefore no photo shop, Matt). Technology was minimal. The figures look very 2-dimensional.
    I cannot find anything discrediting Lady Cottington’s photograph from 1907. Do fairies exist? Did they?

    Angelica

    October 17, 2009 at 4:53 pm

  9. i belive in fairys :333

    rinoa

    November 14, 2009 at 3:32 pm

  10. The last picture looks the most real too me… i have seen the film. & it is very good… I did believe this first of all…. but when they finally admitted it, a lot of people changed they’re minds! and i do believe fairies exist, but yes, lets just leave the amazing, to be known yet again another mystery… 🙂

    Chloe

    November 19, 2009 at 10:02 am

  11. Oh yes! & i also forgot to say, R.I.P Frances Griffiths. you were a lovely girl, as my Nan knew you, & said yu were extremely good friends… I think you are stunning & a lovely girl, also is Elsie…

    Chloe

    November 19, 2009 at 10:04 am

  12. What’s the film called?

    And yes – It was created a long time ago, I would’ve believe it 🙂

    Lord

    December 5, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    • Fairytale: A true story

      Roisin

      May 16, 2010 at 3:22 pm

  13. there are all amazing, but they were faked, she admitted, by using out cutouts of paper fairies and using hair pins and such to pin it to trees.

    I like to believe they exist, though.

    I want a photo like that, for my profile -pic!

    Mary

    February 24, 2010 at 4:28 am

  14. Sad to say that the pictures of these fairies are in actual fact fake. This puts a damper on the belief systems of people. Fantastically enough though, fairies do exist and I can say that purely because I have been lucky enough to see some. They unfortunately do not appear in such abundance as is shown in these picture, neither do they look like humans(well at least not the ones that I’ve been fortunate enough to see). I think it is hard to believe in something you’ve never seen, but irrespective of whether you can see something or not, it does not necessarely mean that it does not exist.

    CT

    March 27, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    • I would love to know what the fairies you have seen look like CT, I’ve never been lucky enough to see any.

      Jenny

      April 22, 2010 at 8:34 am

  15. They admitted when they got older that the faries were cardboard cutouts

    hunyb

    April 13, 2010 at 4:25 pm

  16. The film was called Fairytale: A True Story, I saw it when I was about 11 years old. Afterwards I spent many hours searching my backyard for fairies. I was never lucky enough to see any like you CT. You said they didn’t look human, I would be fascinated to know what the ones you saw were like. The last photograph looks the most real to me too. I think they were very clever little girls for a 10 and 16 yr old. Perhaps they did it because they really did see fairies and no one believed them. Regardless of whether they are real or not, I hope fairies do exist and I will keep believing.

    Jenny

    April 22, 2010 at 8:32 am

  17. […] Cottingley Fairies. (2010). IconicPhotos.Wordpress.com. [website]. Retrieved May 13, 2010, from https://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2009/08/28/the-cottingley-fairies/ Tags: media, social interactions, social media, social media position, […]

  18. this is such a lovely story, I had seen it before.. 🙂
    how someone who invented MrLogic himself could fall for it, is the biggest mystery, only explained by the fact maybe, that photography as such seemed to be the media of the truth back then.
    boy, we have come a long way.
    I wonder if anybody has ever made similar photos – with modern means – that celebrate the imaginative cheeky girls.

    kaykay

    June 5, 2010 at 11:10 pm

  19. they all look fake 2 me so any1 who thinks their real is just stupid

    tigger lover

    June 11, 2010 at 2:28 am

    • you know what tigger Lover keep your comments to yourself!!!

      Sandy

      July 7, 2010 at 12:42 am

  20. I believe in the wee folk; saw them 12 years or so at the edge of a forest not far from where I live. Having said that, yes in all likelihood the girls put something together but mightn’t it be to memorialise their beliefs and, possibly, experiences? It’s rather like the Shroud of Turin – more or less an aid to belief. These are really nebulous paths we’re treading on but when it comes down to brass tacks, why it’s what one believes that’s of greatest import.

    Brad

    July 14, 2010 at 8:50 pm

  21. i just watched the film with my sister that is 7 years old .. and bless her heart she believes in fairies .. untill she view one of the pages about francis and elise discoveries and the fakeness of it ,,, soo if there not true why put it across worldwide and shatter young peoples dreams about faires and the unknown discoveries of mythical creatures ? …

    Kellie-anne

    July 18, 2010 at 8:28 am

  22. I know some people may mock me but I think that the first four are fake but that the fifth is real but the eldest girl said it was fake to protect the fairies. Because if all those people back then believed them they would have ripped the whole area apart just to find the fairies.

    Wonderland

    December 22, 2010 at 3:39 pm

  23. […] Geoffrey Crawley, the then editor in chief of British Journal of Photography, gently deflated the Cottingley Fairies myth by showing the original cameras were incapable of producing such crisp […]

  24. […] Cottingley Fairies. (2010). IconicPhotos.Wordpress.com. [website]. Retrieved May 13, 2010, from https://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2009/08/28/the-cottingley-fairies/ […]

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