Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Cottingley Fairies

For some reason, I was thinking about the Cottingley Fairies photographs this morning. These were early "faked" photographs (Photoshop a century before Photoshop!) where a young girl posed cutouts of fairies and was photographed with them. A lot of people believed the photographs were either real fairies, or were capturing some sort of "psychic phenomenon". (Even Conan Doyle believed them for a while).

Even though the pictures were debunked (And apparently it took a long time for the cousins who did them to admit they were fakes), and even though I don't really approve of the apparent purpose of the photos (done to deceive people), there's still something oddly charming about them. (I'm sure part of it is the hairstyle of the young girl in the photos - there's still something kind of Pre-Raphaelite about the hair and clothes. And I admit, I'm interested in that whole era, the idea of the Arts and Crafts movement, the idea of going back to simpler ideals and rejecting some of the more "modernist" styles of painting in favor of a more classicist tradition.

I wonder if there are any modern re-creations of the fairy photographs. I think it would be interesting for someone to do it, to play around with cut-outs (yes, I would want it to be done very traditionally, no digital manipulation involved) and that sort of ethereally done photograph (At least one of them was apparently done with a slow shutter speed, which would mean...gah, I don't remember well enough what that would mean for the aperture, it's been years since I even handled a real 35 mm camera).

I like a lot of the interesting odd photo effects that can be done by playing around with lenses and tilt-shift photography that makes real object look like miniatures. (I know some people don't like it, and I suppose in some cases it's been overdone, but in the right application it's interesting to look at). I know some of these can be mimicked digitally (there's even a whole camera out there that is designed for tilt-shift digital photography).

Though I have to admit sometimes, that if I had time for yet another hobby, it would be kind of fun to get back into photography more. I took a class in it in high school - we used old beat-up Pentax 35 mm cameras (we were issued them for the duration of the class). It was a lot of fun. I learned how to develop film (it was nervewracking - having to open the canister and spool the film completely in the dark, and more than once I ruined a roll by getting it off track and having two sections of the film touching inside the developing canister). And printing photos in the darkroom, which was much more enjoyable to me than the developing of the film was, because you could play around with exposures and even do things like masks and dodging to change the effects of the photos. (Again, a lot of this can be simulated with good photo software...though it has less of the hands-on charm, I think, it would be a lot neater....I couldn't have a darkroom now, not in my house, not the way it's configured (And anyway, dealing with the disposal of all the chemicals is a bigger nightmare than I'd want for a hobby)).

I have to admit though, with all the slick pixely toys out there, I still find the old photographs more interesting - the famous ones, like the Cottingley Fairies ones, as well as the non-famous ones (I have a photograph of my great grandparents and their children - my maternal grandmother's parents - at home: Great-grandfather is sitting in his big chair with a newspaper, Great-grandmother is looking at the camera, my great-aunt Grace is saying something to my Great-Uncle Burt, my grandmother (who was 13 at the time and looks a bit the sullen adolescent) is staring at the camera, and my great-uncle Fred is doing a very early version of a photobomb, sticking his head in from the side of the frame.

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