156. The Awkward But Evolving Relationship Between Technology & Skin Tone

04 takeaways from this video:

00:00:02 Shirley cards are “color reference cards that are used to perform skin-color balance in still photography printing.” The light ‘Caucasian’ skin tone surrounded by bright, vivid colors became the industry color standard in part because:

  • This technology had been developed in North America in the 1940s and 1950s
  • Of the light skin tone’s “high level of reflectivity,” and
  • “The consumer market (at that time) that was designated in the design of film chemistry was that of the lighter-skinned market” explains Lorna Roth of Concordia University in Montreal

Color cards are necessary because color film consists of different layers of film which capture different colors stacked on top of each other. Additionally, there are several different types of chemical solutions used in the film development process. All of this comprises the film’s color balance.

This positive bias towards lighter skin tones meant that darker, non-caucasian skin tones, once developed through the film development process, woud be underrepresented in the final photo.

image

(Photo credit: Walt Jabsco)

00:01:36 In the 1970s color balance issues began being taken into account as these darker colors became more and more prevalent as:

  • Companies selling wood furniture needed the varying darkness of their grained-wood products to be more evident in their sales catalogues
  • Chocolate makers needed to demonstrate the differences between their milk and dark chocolate products
  • Television shows were becoming more and more ethnically diverse

00:02:00 In the 1990s a camera system was developed where dark and light color tones were balanced individually, effectivly solving this color tone problem.

As the technology advanced and became more widely adopted, Shirley cards were updated and expanded to include other ethnic skin tones. In 1995, 50 years later, Kodak designed a multiracial norm reference card which depicted Caucasian, Asian, and African skin tones contrasted against bright, vivid colors.

00:03:00 Modern film and color cameras have mostly resolved this color issue, but there are still instances where darker skin tones aren’t recognized by technology, for example with laptop cameras and hand soap dispensers.

This problem, as PC Mag quotes Hewlett-Packard in their Dec 22, 2009 article, is likely because technology “might have difficulty ‘seeing’ contrast in conditions where there is insufficient foreground lighting.”

 Every range of skin tone should be considered as the norm; whiteness is no longer the default.

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