Cottingley Lens Competition

Cottingley Lens

The following contest has ended. Winners were featured in our June 2014 issue. All information here is maintained for archival purposes only.

“The series of incidents set forth in this little volume represent either
the most elaborate and ingenious hoax every played upon the public,
or else they constitute an event in human history which may in the future
appear to have been epoch-making in its character.”
– Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Coming of the Fairies (1922)

The history of photography is rampant with falsehoods and fabrications. A form that should have proven among the most honest of visual media – passing memory distilled into lasting record – has instead become an engine of misrepresentation. It’s true that cameras never lie. Photographers, however…

In 1917, sixteen year old English schoolgirl and apparent Mary Pickford hairdo devotee Elsie Wright instigated the most prominent early case study in photographic trickery. Having borrowed her father’s equipment, Elsie photographed both herself and her younger cousin Frances in various states of woodland repose, accompanied by a chain of frolicking fairies. The fairies were of course simply watercolor paintings pinned to flowers and sticks with hatpins. Many people recognized this. Many, many more did not.

One of those true believers is quoted above. Sir Conan Doyle, a hardened spiritualist and romantic, was so convinced that the fairies of Cottingley were real and would provide society with the “jolt” needed to “admit that there is a glamour and mystery to life” that he wrote an entire book on the matter.

We don’t begrudge Sir Conan Doyle his right to be fooled. If sites like worth1000 and the Photoshop Battles subreddit attest to anything, some of photography’s greatest pleasures come either before or after the image itself is snapped – in chopping, shopping, staging and reworking documentary reality into something wholly new and different.

That’s why now, in honor of April Fool’s Day and the advent of the spring season (peak fairy watching weather, as we understand it), we’re offering you the opportunity to submit your best take on the Cottingley incident. Send us your altered images, be they specially staged or manually/digitally altered after the fact (We request that the original photo either be your own creation or in the public domain). Your photos may attempt to pose their own hoax, or they may choose to disrupt reality for no purpose beyond artistic experimentation. Whatever the reason, however the method, we’re looking for fake, fraudulent phonies. Are you phony enough to win it all???


Winners will be selected by our Photo Editor, Katie Morrison.

First place shall receive publication in the June issue of Buffalo Almanack, as well as $50 in the form of a personal check. This prize cannot be won in conjunction with the standard Inkslinger Award. The two prize monies must be awarded to separate individuals. Should sufficient entries be made to warrant second and third place consideration, these photos shall also receive publication in the June issue of Buffalo Almanack, though no financial prize will be awarded.

Submissions to the Cottingley Lens competition are due by June 1st, 2014. No submissions received beyond this date will be considered for either the contest or the general publication.

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Please address all inquires and concerns to Maxine Vande Vaarst and Katie Morrison, editors.
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