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

Posted in Articles, Arts, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, United States, Videos on 2015-09-21 02:43Z by Steven

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


Estelle Caswell

The biased film was fixed in the 1990s, so why do so many photos still distort darker skin?

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 didn’t understand why, that the lighter you were, the more likely it was that the camera — the film — 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?…

Read the entire article here.

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Looking at Shirley, the Ultimate Norm: Colour Balance, Image Technologies, and Cognitive Equity

Posted in Articles, Arts, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2015-09-21 02:28Z by Steven

Looking at Shirley, the Ultimate Norm: Colour Balance, Image Technologies, and Cognitive Equity

Canadian Journal of Communication
Volume 34, Number 1 (2009)
pages 111-136

Lorna Roth, Professor of Communication Studies
Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Until recently, due to a light-skin bias embedded in colour film stock emulsions and digital camera design, the rendering of non-Caucasian skin tones was highly deficient and required the development of compensatory practices and technology improvements to redress its shortcomings. Using the emblematic “Shirley” norm reference card as a central metaphor reflecting the changing state of race relations/aesthetics, this essay analytically traces the colour adjustment processes in the industries of visual representation and identifies some prototypical changes in the field. The author contextualizes the history of these changes using three theoretical categories: the ‘technological unconscious’ (Vaccari, 1981), ‘dysconsciousness’ (King, 2001), and an original concept of ‘cognitive equity,’ which is proposed as an intelligent strategy for creating and promoting equity by inscribing a wider dynamic range of skin tones into image technologies, products, and emergent practices in the visual industries.

Jusqu’à récemment, en raison d’un préjugé favorisant la peau claire dans les films couleurs et dans la conception des caméras numériques, la reproduction des couleurs de peaux non-caucasiennes a été très déficiente, exigeant le développement de diverses techniques de compensation et d’amélioration. Utilisant la carte de référence normative « Shirley » comme métaphore pour refléter l’évolution des rapports entre les races et leurs pratiques esthétiques, cet essai analyse les processus d’ajustement de la couleur dans les industries de la représentation visuelle et identifie certains prototypes de changements dans le domaine. L’auteur situe ces changements historiquement en se rapportant à trois concepts théoriques : « l’inconscient technologique » (Vaccari, 1981), la « dysconscience » (« dysconsciousness » – King, 2001), et un concept original, « l’équité cognitive », proposé comme stratégie intelligente pour créer et promouvoir l’équité en inscrivant un plus grand éventail de couleurs de peau dans les technologies et produits de l’image et dans les pratiques émergeantes des industries visuelles.

Read the entire article here.

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The Melanin Millennium: Skin Color as 21st Century International Discourse

Posted in Africa, Anthologies, Anthropology, Asian Diaspora, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Philosophy, Social Science, Social Work, United Kingdom, United States on 2013-03-14 21:05Z by Steven

The Melanin Millennium: Skin Color as 21st Century International Discourse

348 pages
32 illustrations
Hardcover ISBN 978-94-007-4607-7
eBook ISBN: 978-94-007-4608-4
DOI: 10.1007/978-94-007-4608-4

Edited by:

Ronald E. Hall, Professor of Social Work
Michigan State University

  • Addresses the issue of skin color in a worldwide context
  • Discusses the introduction of new forms of visual media and their effect on skin color discrimination
  • Touches up on the issue of skin bleaching and the Bleaching Syndrome

In the aftermath of the 60s “Black is Beautiful” movement and publication of The Color Complex almost thirty years later the issue of skin color has mushroomed onto the world stage of social science. Such visibility has inspired publication of the Melanin Millennium for insuring that the discourse on skin color meet the highest standards of accuracy and objective investigation.

This volume addresses the issue of skin color in a worldwide context. A virtual visit to countries that have witnessed a huge rise in the use of skin whitening products and facial feature surgeries aiming for a more Caucasian-like appearance will be taken into account. The book also addresses the question of whether using the laws has helped to redress injustices of skin color discrimination, or only further promoted recognition of its divisiveness among people of color and Whites.

The Melanin Millennium has to do with now and the future. In the 20th century science including eugenics was given to and dominated by discussions of race category. Heretofore there remain social scientists and other relative to the issue of skin color loyal to race discourse. However in their interpretation and analysis of social phenomena the world has moved on. Thus while race dominated the 20th century the 21st century will emerge as a global community dominated by skin color and making it the melanin millennium.


  • Preface
  • Chapter 1. The Bleaching Syndrome: Western Civilization vis-à-vis Inferiorized People of Color; Ronald E. Hall
  • Chapter 2. The Historical and Cultural Influences of Skin Bleaching in Tanzania;  Kelly M. Lewis, Solette Harris, Christina Champ, Willbrord Kalala, Will Jones, Kecia L. Ellick, Justie Huff and Sinead Younge
  • Chapter 3. Pathophysiology and Psychopathology of Skin Bleaching and Implicationa of Skin Colour in Africa; A. A. Olowu and O. Ogunlade
  • Chapter 4. An Introduction to Japanese Society’s Attitudes Toward Race and Skin Color; Arudou Debito
  • Chapter 5. The Inconvenient Truth of India, Caste, and Color Discrimination; Varsha Ayyar and Lalit Khandare
  • Chapter 6. Indigeneity on Guahan: Skin Color as a Measure of Decolonization; LisaLinda Natividad
  • Chapter 7. A Table of Two Cultures; Eneid Routté-Gómez
  • Chapter 8. Where are you From?; Stéphanie Cassilde
  • Chapter 9. Social Work Futures: Reflections from the UK on the Demise of Anti-racist Social Work and Emerging Issues in a “Post-Race'” Era; Mekada J. Graham
  • Chapter 10. Shades of Conciousness: From Jamaica to the UK; William Henry
  • Chapter 11. Fanon Revisited: Race Gender and Colniality vis-à-vis Skin Color; Linda Lane and Hauwa Mahdi
  • Chapter 12. Pigment Disorders and Pigment Manipulations; Henk E. Menke
  • Chapter 13. Skin Color and Blood Quantum: Getting the Red Out; Deb Bakken and Karen Branden
  • Chapter 14. The Impact of Skin Color on Mental and Behavorial Health in African American and Latina Adolescent Girls: A Review of the Literature; Alfiee M. Breland-Noble
  • Chapter 15. Characteristics of Color Discrimination Charges Filed with the EEOC; Joni Hersch
  • Chapter 16. The Consequences of Colorism; Margaret Hunter
  • Chapter 17. Navigating the Color Complex: How Multiracial Individuals Narrate the Elements of Appearance and Dynamics of Color in Twenty-first Century America; Sara McDonough and David L. Brunsma
  • Chapter 18. The Fade-Out of Shirley, a Once-Ultimate Norm: Colour Balance, Image Technologies, and Cognitive Equity; Lorna Roth
  • Chapter 19. What Color is Red? Exploring the implications of Phenotype for Native Americans; Hilary N. Weaver
  • Chapter 20. From Fair & Lovely to Banho de Lua: Skin Whitening and its Implications in the Multi-ethnic and Multicolored Surinamese Society; Jack Menke
  • Chapter 21. Affirmative Action and Racial Identityin Brazil: A Study of the First Quota Graduates at the State University of Rio de Janneiro: Vânia Penha-Lopes
  • Index
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Home on the Range: Kids, Visual Culture, and Cognitive Equity

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, Social Science, Teaching Resources on 2010-03-29 17:43Z by Steven

Home on the Range: Kids, Visual Culture, and Cognitive Equity

Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies
Volume 9, Number 2 (April 2009)
pages 141-148
DOI: 10.1177/1532708608326606

Lorna Roth, Associate Professor of Communication Studies
Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

This essay focuses on Binney and Smith’s creation and marketing of Crayola fleshtone art products from the late 1950s until the mid-1990s, analyzing the company’s shifting nomenclature—from “flesh” to “peach” to its multicultural collection. After reflecting on the significance of Crayola’s color adjustment for children’s sociocultural and aesthetic development and for teacher’s pedagogical repertoires around diversity issues, I introduce an original notion–cognitive equity. I propose this as a refined way of understanding racial and cultural equity issues that don’t just revolve around statistics and access to institutions, but also inscribes a new normative vision of skin color equity directly into technologies, products, and body representations in a range of visual media. At the very early stage of children’s cognitive development when stereotypes and racisms are being formed, this would be a particularly intelligent design strategy in which to reinforce multiculturalism and multiracialism in all aspects of their visual culture and the commodities that are available to them.

Read or purchase the article here.

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