Cheating the Cheaters

I’ve not really written before about photographic cheats, so this is a first for me. 

Before I start – let’s think about the definition of cheat…..

  1. To act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage
  2. To avoid (something undesirable) by luck or skill

Whether we talk about misleading images, or manipulative ‘photoshopping’ – all we need to think is “does this photograph meet the criteria set down” in a competition.

One of the most famous photographic hoaxes, is a series of images known as the Cottingley Fairies – and I’m sure most of you will have heard of these, and even seen the images.

The images were taken in 1917 by Elsie Wright, and Frances Griffiths, who were, at the time, mere children.

The photographs show them with the fairies, and for decades they were accepted as being perfectly genuine.  They even fooled Arthur Conan Doyle.

They were first published in 1920 in Strand Magazine,  and a newspaper article at the time said the following:-

“The developed negative showed the figures in the woods, and Sir A. Conan Doyle is enthusiastic over this vindication of the spirit world”……… “The original pictures are now being studied by professional photographers to see if they could have been faked”.

The cousins were both still alive in the 1980s, and finally Elsie confessed to the hoax, probably with some relief, in 1983. What had undoubtedly started out as a cleverly stage-managed bit of fun, suggested by Frances, had got seriously out of hand. The cousins themselves were astonished at how readily people of the calibre of Conan-Doyle had accepted the images

We might think that prestigious competitions such as the Wildlife Photographer of the Year would be safe from the cheaters….. but no……. You may remember the image of the wolf leaping over a closed gate by Jose Louis Rodriguez.  The photographer here did not manipulate the image (much as the Cottingley Fairies were not manipulated), it was a straight photograph. Rodriguez ‘wild’ wolf was actually a tame one, used to jumping over things, and was identified by other Spanish photographers.

You may also remember the controversy over the ‘stuffed’ anteater at a more recent Wildlife competition.

But what makes people cheat in the first place?  

It may be to gain benefit, or notoriety, or just because they think they can get away with it.  I’m sure in the case of the wildlife images it was for fame and fortune, but the only people they cheat are themselves.

At the other end of the scale are those who cheat because they can, and because they genuinely believe that they are doing nothing wrong.  For example, on Facebook at the moment there is a group running where a topic is set once a week, for the 52 weeks of the year.  Each participant must take an image that week on that theme.  You are not supposed to check your archives for past work that ‘might fit’.  The thing is, that who would know if you did find something that fitted and posted that – the answer is no-one.  Is there any satisfaction in that though?

Cheaters have convinced themselves that their actions are acceptable, and you won’t be able to convince them otherwise…. After all ‘it was only a bit of fun’….

Author: Diane Seddon ARPS AFIAP CPAGB BPE3* - D Seddon Photography

I am a retired freelance photographer, based in Louth, Lincolnshire.

5 thoughts on “Cheating the Cheaters”

  1. Away nice to hear other people’s opinions. Having played sport all my life I have always tried to win, but not at any cost. There is so much more satisfaction in knowing you have beaten someone fair and square. This is so true in photography. My thoughts are there are people around in sorts of arena that are not quite up to it, either by not being good enough or not prepared to put the effort in. Therefore those who cheat may look like they have reached the top but not when they are found out. It’s much better to come runner up and know you’ve tried your best.

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  2. I wonder if the reason photo of the fairies were believed by so many falls into the same category as the Loch Ness monster photo which was speculated on for many years. Ultimately there is a eagerness to hope or believe that it’s true/real. I do feel in this modern day and age people generally are far more sceptical and expect an image to be faked, artificial in some form or another. This begs the question, is it deceitful or creative to produce an image that can fool people in the modern era? Just thinking out loud, I don’t have a conclusive opinion myself, maybe it depends if like you mention earlier, it’s just for some fun or it’s for some personal or financial gain.

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  3. Thank you Diane, for your usual spot on thoughts. As you say what is the point of cheating, if you are found out the stigma placed on the person is long lasting: Is it George the fantastic photographer! no its George the cheating photographer despite the 50,000 brilliant images shown before you cheated, you will only be known as George the cheating photographer. Well that’s what I think.

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