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Tuesday, November 23, 2010


A few days ago I read an obituary of the Cottingley fairy debunker in The Guardian, part of which runs as follows:

'The photographic scientist Geoffrey Crawley, who has died aged 83, played an instrumental role in the debunking of the world`s longest running photographic hoax. The unlikely deception was hatched in 1917 by two cousins, Elsie Wright, aged 15, and Frances Griffiths, 1o, who claimed they had captured photographs of fairies near there home in Cottingley,west Yorkshire. The “Cottingley fairies” tale quickly caught the public imagination, rolling on until some six decades later, when Geoffrey`s scientific analysis of the pictures led the cousins to confess that the fairies had been nothing more sensational than cut-outs kept in place using hatpins….

Geoffrey was born in Bow, east London. Aged four, he moved with his parents to Southend-on-Sea, Essex,and then to nearby Leigh-on-Sea, where he helped out in the darkroom set up by Tom, a keen amateur photographer,who worked for the Admiralty in London. Geoffrey attended Westcliff high school for boys. His mother, Alice, died when he was 12….

It was as editor of the BJP ( British Journal of Photography) in 1982 that he applied a detective`s eye to the five Cottingley fairies photographs, the authenticity of which had first been endorsed by Edward Gardner, a theosophist, in 1920. Gardner had heightened the allure of the story by having the glass plate negatives retouched for public show, in a way that Photoshop software might be used today. The tale snowballed further when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – the creator of Sherlock Holmes and a spiritualist- endorsed the revelations in the Strand Magazine.

Geoffrey brought an objective, in-depth, technical analysis to the case. He acquired two of the cameras used by the Cottingley cousins – a quarter-plate Cameo folding camera and a Midg box camera – to assess whether they could possibly have used them to take the pictures. “ Of course there are fairies,just as there is Father Christmas,” Geoffrey concluded. The story proved irresistible to Hollywood: the films Fairy Tale: A True Story and Photographing Fairies based on the case were both released in 1997….' (1)

1. The Guardian November 16th 2010 p.32

1 comment:

Wuff said...

Geoffrey Crawley was also featured on BBC Radio 4's "Last Word" earlier this month. It is still possible to "Listen Again" to the programme -