Color film was built for white people. Here's what it did to dark skin.

Color film was built for white people. Here's what it did to dark skin.



The unfortunate history of racial bias in photography.

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For decades, the color film available to consumers was built for white people. The chemicals coating the film simply weren’t adequate to capture a diversity of darker skin tones. And the photo labs established in the 1940s and 50s even used an image of a white woman, called a Shirley card, to calibrate the colors for printing.

Concordia University professor Lorna Roth has researched the evolution of skin tone imaging. She explained in a 2009 paper how the older technology distorted the appearance of black subjects:

“Problems for the African-American community, for example, have included reproduction of facial images without details, lighting challenges, and ashen-looking facial skin colours contrasted strikingly with the whites of eyes and teeth.”

How this would affect non-white people seemingly didn’t occur to those who designed and operated the photo systems. In an essay for Buzzfeed, writer and photographer Syreeta McFadden described growing up with film that couldn’t record her actual appearance:

“The inconsistencies were so glaring that for a while, I thought it was impossible to get a decent picture of me that captured my likeness. I began to retreat from situations involving group photos. And sure, many of us are fickle about what makes a good portrait. But it seemed the technology was stacked against me. I only knew, though I didnโ€™t understand why, that the lighter you were, the more likely it was that the camera โ€” the film โ€” got your likeness right.”

Many of the technological biases have since been corrected (though, not all of them, as explained in the video above). Still, we often see controversies about the misrepresentation of non-white subjects in magazines and advertisements. What are we to make of the fact that these images routinely lighten the skin of women of color?

Tools are only as good as the people who use them. The learned preference for lighter skin is ubiquitous in many parts of the world, and it starts early. That’s an infinitely tougher problem than improving the color range of photo technology.

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Comments (42)

  • intel386DX Reply

    black people – no one care
    chocolate and wood – every one cares
    hahah WTF KODAK ?!
    but the inventors of the technology own the ethnology, and those are not the black people .

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Marek Siciล„ski Reply

    How can they no longer 'assume' that? What does that even mean? And what is its relevance to any single real material issue at all, other than maybe a small inclination of consciousness in children,e tc.

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Marek Siciล„ski Reply

    Its not an inherent bias

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Marek Siciล„ski Reply

    You mean ethnically diverse, yes?

    A diverse entertainment routine means for example musicals, documentaries, comedies, action movies, etc.

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • AmericanPatriot Reply

    Just in: Movies are racist

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Shinigami Kitsune Reply

    What if I told you it isn't racism, it is just technological limitations and BASIC PHYSICS AND LIGHT THEORY?!

    Vox is offically the new (and probably worse) form of BuzzFeed.

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • *cough* It's BTS Reply

    Poor Vox. People are getting dumber these days to not understand that technology isnโ€™t just BAAM HOLY UNBIASED SCIENCE itโ€™s something humans created and therefore can be flawed because of its developers

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Adam Scott Reply

    Oh PU-LEASE, find an SJW worthy cause, not this crapola

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Fraph24 Reply

    Openstreetmap attribution. Well done.

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • VISHAL JANGPANGI Reply

    Well… We learn from our mistakes!

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Darren Brown Reply

    Vox News, desperately seeking racism in literally everything. Yes even photo film.

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Pretty cool Reply

    F
    A
    K
    E

    N
    E
    W
    S

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Tommy Plays Reply

    dark colors absorb light more than light colors. Cameras work 100% based on light…. Not racism, it's physics.

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Tommy Plays Reply

    Racist Vox.

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Tommy Plays Reply

    nothing should serve Everyone's needs, that would defeat the purpose of being an individual.

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Tommy Plays Reply

    Did Wzamen01 tune the camera ? Because it was more than likely tuned by a white person. Again, lack of understanding technology.

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Tommy Plays Reply

    This is not factual and ignores the science behind exposure and film… But sure you can pretend it's racist because that's what closet racists do.

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Howard Henriquez Reply

    Wow simply wow

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Nightmare Core Reply

    So dark people want to come out white in pictures?

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Yo Queen Reply

    Welcome to the world, where everyone is different types of wood ganging from birches to mahoganies, and chocolates from the pearliest of white chocolates to the richest deeps of dark chocolates

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Silvana Vizcarra Reply

    I am yellow and my pics sucks ;( yellow skin matter to

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Anthony Granados Reply

    Un ragazza

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Anthony Granados Reply

    Ejem la cosa no se puede owu I la mayor

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Trent williams Reply

    When people can't use logic so they say it's racist you can't take a photo of a black person in a dark room

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Misbehavior Reply

    ๐Ÿ˜‚

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Tykuria Dillard Reply

    These comments add on to other reasons why I don't like white people. You all are so evil and narcissistic to everything. You act so delusional on purpose. I hate you all.

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Kj_mast_er Reply

    so many people butthurt about this, i wonder why?

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Greenball Science Reply

    OMG DOES EVERYTHING HAVE TO BE RASCIST CANT VOX JUST END

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Jay Johnson Reply

    Just a thought, in the 90's it took two computer chips to better capture darker objects and people with dark skin. In the 60's, a computer chip was the size of a small table. https://i.imgur.com/q8OpAok.png

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • LT 123456 part 2 electic boogaloo Reply

    lack of low light cameras is racist now folks

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • LT 123456 part 2 electic boogaloo Reply

    Hmmmm mabye they didnt have cameras in africa?

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • LT 123456 part 2 electic boogaloo Reply

    The reason snow is white is that white racists used it to opress black minorities by making them freeze

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Blaster Reply

    LIGHT IS RACIST.

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Nfd7689 Gaming Reply

    This is racist

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Ishaiah Guyton Reply

    It can't recognize dark skin your welcome

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Random Fjord Reply

    I'm not sure to like or dislike this. The content itself is good–elaborating technical history. But I'm against that title.

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Genesis Adams Reply

    Some people are so ignorant lol

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Matthew Pressley Reply

    God this video is insufferable.

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Joshua Reply

    Washing Machine is racist.

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Sha Reply

    My eyes must be racist too because i cant see dark skinned people in the shadows… ๐Ÿ˜’

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • Cunning Linguist Reply

    Vox and Vice working hard to race-bait, divide and regress.

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm
  • boostedsil40 Reply

    Let me guess,white people were expected to invent somthing for this while black people do nothing right?

    April 18, 2019 at 8:28 pm

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