Photographer Who Revealed "Cottingley Fairies" Hoax Dies

Posted by David Ozanich — 1 Nov 2010

Geoffrey Crawley, an editor at the British Journal of Photography, died after a long illness. Though he worked with the likes of Stanley Kubrick on “2001,” he is most famous for exposing the “Cottingley Fairies” photographs as a hoax:

In 1979 he was contacted by Brian Coe, the curator of the Kodak Museum in Harrow, which marked the beginning of his journey into “fairy land”. Coe had been approached by Sidney Robinson, a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the author of the great Sherlock Holmes adventure stories, who was also a keen photography enthusiast and occasional contributor to BJP in the late 19th Century, and a committed Spiritualist), about the writer’s involvement in the 20th century’s longest-running photography hoax, carried out by two Yorkshire schoolgirls.

Doyle lent his considerable standing to effectively verify the authenticity of two pictures taken by Elsie Wright and her cousin Frances Griffiths, aged 16 and 10, capturing them playing with little fairies at the bottom of her garden in 1917. With his backing, and the eager support of Edward Gardner, a leading theosophist of the day, further pictures of the "Cottingley Fairies", were presented to the press in 1921, causing a sensation that captured the public imagination and rumbled on over the next six decades.

Crawley undertook a major scientific investigation of the photographs and the events surrounding them, publishing his research in a series of articles in BJP between 1982 and 1983, finally proving them to be fakes, gaining the “confession” of Wright, and putting an end to the hoax, which eventually culminated in two films, "Fairy Tale: A True Story," starring Peter O'Toole as Doyle, and "Photographing Fairies."


More on Crawley at BJP via Gizmodo. More on the Cottingley Fairies and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at the Daily Mail.

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