Do you believe in fairies?

The story of the flower fairies is one of the most famous, and intriguing, in the history of photography.

In 1920 two little girls hoodwinked the world. They created the Cottingley Fairies. Personally, I think it was just some very clever fun that they were having with the family box camera. They were talented and clever constructors of the photographic image. Pioneers.

It was in 1917, when the first two photographs were taken, Elsie was 16 years old and Frances was only 9. In 1920 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle asked to use the images to illustrate an article that he was writing about fairies. The images caused a stir with the public and many debates about the authenticity of them. Doyle was a spiritualist and interpreted the photographs as evidence of the existence of the supernatural.

However, at the time when these photographs were picked up by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Britain and the world, were still reeling after the horrors of World War 1.

People had lost faith and were looking for it, and hope, anywhere that it seemed possible. Ghosts, fairies and interest the occult was on the rise.

In other words: context is everything.

I first tried my hand at ‘credible fantasy’ many years ago back in college. Similarly creating cut out fairies out of photographs of me and my sister. I made thin paper wings and shot the photos on 35mm. I then progressed on to being a ghost, and then an angel. I’m not saying that any of the work was any good! But, I did a few investigations in to creating false reality images based in myth and the dark side of fairy tales or science fiction.

The images always fascinated me. Cardboard cut outs and imagination turned ancient myths in to reality. I think the girls were just ahead of their time, and would have had wonderful careers in special effects had the images not created a run away train effect.

(And, if they weren’t living in a time before working class women got the vote!)

It was beyond common sense that two little girls could concoct such a thing!
It must be real!

– said by all Edwardian people except very clever types

The camera will record what is there in front of the aperture for the time that the shutter is open, but a person is fully in charge. The photographer chooses everything.

This gives us opportunities to create unreal situations that seem plausible because of the authenticity and power of the photographic image.

The instant photographs are on instax square and are double exposures. I like the quality of these and think there could be more mileage in the use of film with hand cut silhouette characters from local folklore that can REALLY populate the landscape.

I left the idea for a long time but an interesting commission has come up that this, in combination with my nature cyanotype images, could form the basis for some fantastic unreal photographs.

Pinhole photograph from the yarden

On another note, the small darkroom works a treat (in my last blog: making a smaller kit). I ran a session for Sunderland college last Friday, and the box workshop was better than the tent would’ve been, as the wind picked up through the session and might have blown us away!

It’s also perfect for taking on the road to really remote areas because it’s easy to carry. As long as the rain keeps off then I could use this smaller kit to produce pinhole photographs of hard to reach places. So this summer I’m hitting the road. More outdoor work. More experimental. More magical.

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