Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Fairies in Lancashire?

Back in 1917 the world was stunned by photographs that purported to depict real fairies taken in the British town of Cottingly. The photographs turned out to be part of an elaborate hoax created with paper cutouts, but with the camera technology of the time the pictures looked quite real. Now a university lecturer named John Hyatt claims to have photographed the real thing in the county of Lancashire, and has created an exhibition at the Whitaker Museum in Rossendale showcasing his pictures. Skeptics, however, are not impressed with the photographs and believe they may simply be images of normal insects.

"I was just taking sunset through the trees and when I enlarged the photographs later in the studio, I saw these figures," he wrote. "They are not doctored apart from I increased the size of a detailed section of a larger photograph along with the DPI to stop them being just large pixels -- normal size enhancement techniques." He said that the creatures in his photos don't look like normal insects. “It was a bit of a shock when I blew them up, I did a double take," he told the Manchester Evening News. “I went out afterwards and took pictures of flies and gnats and they just don’t look the same."

Hyatt's photos have skeptics buzzing around him like flies. In fact, flies are what the photos actually show, according to one insect expert. Entomologist Erica McLaughlin writes in the British Natural History Museum's NaturePlus blog that the creatures that Hyatt photographed are most likely a small species of fly known as the "midge." "These tiny midges form mating swarms where the males will ‘dance’ around trying to attract the opposite sex," she writes. They have delicate wings and long legs which dangle down."

The pictures do seem to show creatures with vaguely human outlines, but there are a number of possible explanations that should be considered before jumping to the conclusion that these are in fact fairies. Midges are common in the area that the photograph was taken, and they do sometimes hold their legs in a position that when blown up might produce the human-like silhouette. On the other hand, it's also possible that this could be a new species of insect, and probably the easiest thing to do would be to catch a few and see for sure. If they're so easy to photograph, catching them shouldn't be that difficult. And if they do turn out to be tiny people with wings, that would be quite the discovery.

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Cat Vincent said...

For the record... Lancashire is a county, not a town!

My brother-in-law used to live in Cottingley (county of Yorkshire), in a house that backed onto the woods where the photo was taken. Fake or not, those woods had a distinct vibe...

Scott Stenwick said...

Okay, that's fixed. My knowledge of British geography is not so good.

It wouldn't surprise me if the vibe of the woods was part of what prompted the fairy photographs in first place. There may very well be some sort of spiritual presence there that helped inspire the folklore.

Unknown said...

OMG! I want to sew little pants and leave them out in the forest for the little fairy noms noms!

Unknown said...

...Cause they NEED pants