“The Cottingley Fairies and Other Apparitions”

Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects

If the birth of photography was the result of an illicit affair between science and art, the question of custody has never been settled. Supposedly objective in their relation to the phenomenal world, photographs are often taken as reliable evidence, but as Fox Talbot recognized at the birth of the medium, they are “evidence of a novel kind”—a volatile mixture of fact and fiction in which subjectivity is the catalyst for belief.

This smartly curated show essayed the turbulent relation between photography and belief, juxtaposing vernacular, often anonymous late-nineteenth-century “spirit photographs” depicting supernatural occurrences with the work of contemporary artists more self-consciously exploiting the medium’s ambiguities. The centerpiece was the “Cottingley Fairy” photographs taken by two precocious girls, sixteen-year-old Elsie Wright and her ten-year-old cousin, Frances Griffiths,

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