The Cottingley Fairy Photographs

Mythical creatures captured on film in the early days of photography.

In 1917 Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, two young girls living in Cottingley a small town in Yorkshire, England, produced images that were to become iconic in the world of paranormal investigation. The images of Fairies dancing in front of the girls and interacting with them would cause debate that still continues today almost one hundred years after the photos
first appeared.

The Story behind the Cottingley Fairy Photographs.

The story begins with Frances and Elsie being teased at school for telling tales of fairies in the woods, indignant at their schoolmates ridicule the girls set off to prove that fairies did indeed live in the nearby woods. Borrowing her fathers camera Elsie set off with Frances. An hour later the girls returned with gleeful smiles of triumph. When Elsie's father developed the photographing plates, he was upset and demanded to know why they had placed paper cut outs of fairies in the photographs. Elsie of course denied this and when the second photograph was taken showing a Gnome, Arthur Wright banned Elsie and Frances from borrowing the camera again. Mr. Wright was convinced the photographs were faked, but Elsie's mother considered them to be real images of the Cottingley Fairies.

The story would have ended there but Arthur Wright attended a lecture on local folklore and he was overheard discussing the photographs. Their existence came to the attention of Mr. Edward Garner, a leading Theosophist (believer in the mystical) and he asked to see the images. The photographs were then examined by several experts on photography and even representatives of Kodak.

The culmination of all this attention led these pioneers of paranormal investigation to interview the Wright family in their home.

Concerned with what they saw in the photographs Elsie Wrights parents had taken it upon themselves to try and find proof that the images were faked so as to avoid the unwanted attention "Real Fairy Photographs" would bring them. In those days photographic negatives were made on glass plates and these bulky and expensive plates were all accounted for which means that if the images were faked there were no images made that "went wrong". The other interesting thing is that no "cut out" images of fairies were found by the parents, in fact they went so far as to say neither girl had the artistic ability to draw such things.

All these things came out during the interview with the family. The experts were keen to investigate the matter as much as possible before they published their conclusions. Not only did they rely on the fact that the parents of the girls couldn't show the photographs as being faked they also had a report from the Kodak Photographic Company which stated:-

    1. The negatives are single exposure.

    2. The plates show no sign of being faked work, but that cannot be taken as conclusive evidence of genuineness.

    3. Kodak's were not willing to give any certificate concerning them because photography lent itself to a multitude of processes, and some clever operator might have made them artificially.

    4. The studio chief added that he thought the photographs might have been made by using the glen features and the girl as a background; then enlarging prints from these and painting in the figures; then taking half-plate and finally quarter-plate snaps, suitably lighted. All this, he agreed, would be clever work and take time.

    5. A remark made by one was that 'after all, as fairies couldn't be true, the photographs must have been faked somehow.'

With the backing of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle an article was published in the the Strand Magazine in 1920 it was entitled "An Epoch Making Event - Fairies Photographed". The magazine sold out and thrust the images firmly into the public domain and a nearly a hundred years of speculation.

The Photographs.

Here we present the images themselves and we have had two of them colorized so that the fairies are discernible from the background noise:


The most famous of the Cottingley Fairy photographs this images shows Frances with the fairies. has had the image colorized so that the fairies can be seen more clearly

This image shows Frances with a Leaping Fairy

  Again has had the image colorized
In this photograph a fairy is seen offering Elsie a harebell.   This photograph shows Elsie with a dancing Gnome.

The Truth is Revealed?

In the years that followed the publication of the photographs the two girls remained adamant that they were genuine. However they were both being hounded by the press for interviews and constantly asked questions about the photographs. This took its toll on Elsie especially and she eventually emigrated to America where she met and married her husband Frank Hill. Both Frances and Elsie wanted to get on with their lives and forget all about the Fairy photographs. They remained silent on the subject until 1983.

17 February 1983 was the day Elsie revealed that the photographs were indeed faked. She claimed in a letter that the two girls had drawn the fairies on paper and cut them out. They then fixed the paper on hat pins and pushed them into the ground.

Frances Griffiths said in a television interview in 1986 that there were fairies in Cottingley. She later admitted that some of the photographs were faked but maintained that at least one of them was real. Frances died in 1986 and Elsie died in 1988. What they left behind has been the subject of speculation for years and although the majority of people believe the photographs were hoaxes some people still think they are real.

Our Thoughts on the Photographs.

Having examined all of the photographs ourselves, we have to point out certain anomalies which seem to prove that they were fakes:

All the Fairies are two dimensional, even a skilled artist would find it difficult to produce a drawing that has definite three dimensional qualities. Also the fairies appear to be illustrated rather than realistic.

There are no shadows cast by the fairies that correspond with the natural light in the photographs.

The Existence of Fairies and the Importance of the Photographs.

The fact that these images were not real does not prove that there were fairies in Cottingley. Quite a few local people do claim there to be such creatures living there. There has been many other reports of Fairy-Folk, and even other photographs made throughout the world.

The importance of these images is in the way they sparked the public imagination and drove the scientific community of the time to investigate apparent paranormal phenomena. From these early days of paranormal investigation we still maintain the same stringent belief that there are strange unexplainable things happening to us and we need to look at them to properly understand the world we live in.

If Elsie and Frances didn't give us photographic proof of Fairies then they gave us reason to question everything we see whether it be grainy black and white images are even full color news reports. Their place in the history of paranormal investigation is assured.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), creator of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes was a firm believer in the existence of the Cottingley fairies. He even published a book "The Coming of the Fairies" which tells the true story of the two girls who produced the photographs. Perhaps having such an eminent figure placing his faith in the images persuaded Frances and Elsie not to reveal the truth.