A2 Photographing the Unseen – Away with the fairies



I was inspired by the Cottingley Fairies, photographed in 1917 by cousins Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright. When asked by Conan Doyle to comment on the authenticity of the images, photography expert Harold Snelling said  “these are straight forward photographs of whatever was in front of the camera at the time” .  I find it so interesting that you can have a photograph of “whatever was in front of the camera at the time” without necessarily asserting that whatever was in front of the camera was the truth.

This led me to the housework fairies. Discussing the concept with friends I was intrigued by the level of engagement shown by grown adults. Everyone would love proof that they exist. They’re almost like the grown version of the tooth fairy. Where do we get this idea from, and why do we keep it beyond childhood? I blame Disney. From Fantasia, to Sleeping Beauty, to Enchanted, we’re indoctrinated in our early years with the idea that if we’re lucky enough some mythical being or magic creature/animated object will do our cleaning with a song in their heart and a twinkle in their eye and absolutely no being asked twice. Even Mary Poppins, that stern disciplinarian, was not averse to a bit of magic to help with the tidying up.
My work is photographs of projections of illustrations in a domestic setting. Each step a remove further from the mythological original.  My fairies are even less real than the cardboard Cottingley cutouts because they are a simple trick of the light from a child’s torch.  Yet they are still intriguing and there are as many readings as there are fairies. The contrast between the mundane and the magic, the power of our imaginations, the countless hours lost to housework, feminism, how much we take for granted, or a simple revisit and tribute to a 101 year old hoax which was not formally debunked until the 1980s.
Haot, G. (2018). The Mystery Of The Cottingley Fairies. [online] Historyandotherthoughts.blogspot.co.uk. Available at: http://historyandotherthoughts.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/the-mystery-of-cottingley-fairies.html [Accessed 7 Feb. 2018].

9 thoughts on “A2 Photographing the Unseen – Away with the fairies

  1. Catherine February 7, 2018 / 2:33 pm

    I’ve so enjoyed following you through with this. You’ve been focussed, experimental, playful and collaborative in the way you’ve sought feedback. Those fiery faces linger in my mind.

    • Kate February 7, 2018 / 2:38 pm

      Thank you Catherine!

  2. Doug Bell February 7, 2018 / 4:05 pm

    Well done Kate – really enjoyed this journey

    • Kate February 7, 2018 / 7:52 pm

      Thanks Doug. I’ve got a bit more context sorted today so should be able to wrap it all up tomorrow.

  3. sarahjanefield512666 February 8, 2018 / 11:44 am

    Do you know that Carl Jung was very into fantasy and said that the inner fantasy worlds we humans live with are just as important and just as real as the exterior one. Since we have now reached a point where external reality is considered a construction, and that the self itself is a construction, Jung’s suggestion seems to carry even more weight. Because we live in such a secular society, one in which fantasy is seen as silly and childish, to me it makes sense that your grown-up people should be so interested in this work as it perhaps it gives them permission to value fantasy again.

    • Kate February 8, 2018 / 1:31 pm

      I didn’t know any of that. You’ve just pushed me, once again towards UVC for my next course. Thank you. I had no idea when I started this work that it would turn into the rich seam that it has.

      • sarahjanefield512666 February 8, 2018 / 2:02 pm

        Fantastic book is Jung: A very short Introduction by Anthony Stevens. It’s excellent

      • Kate February 8, 2018 / 2:19 pm

        Thank you, I shall look that up.

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