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


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Published: 3 years ago
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 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?

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

10 hours ago

Some people are so ignorant lol

1 day ago

God this video is insufferable.

1 day ago

Washing Machine is racist.

1 day ago

My eyes must be racist too because i cant see dark skinned people in the shadows... 😒

3 days ago

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

3 days ago

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

4 days ago

Technology isn't racist, but this video sure as hell is. This is low-energy propaganda from some self hating white "journalist".

6 days ago

The n word

1 week ago

Nice science, but stop pretending we're still racist.

1 week ago

Man! Youtube made me dislike white people lol. The amount of delusion disgust me. Instead of just admitting that the title is clickbait now everything is racist. @me and I take your soul.

1 week ago

Vox is SJW garbage. Good job Ezra Klein, you anti white bigot. "I'm not white, I'm Jewish" says the SJW.

1 week ago

There is no racial bias here to speak of. The problem presented here has nothing to do with color and everything to do with contrast and the dynamic range (or lack thereof) of color film (mainly C-41, E6, and Kodachrome). The problem presented in the various photos would also be present if a black & white film had been used because it's an issue of contrast or dynamic range and that has nothing to do with color. The notion that the camera could magically 'correct' the lack of dynamic range in color film is just silly. The camera simply opens the shutter for a period of time and the light travels through the the lens and to the film. The longer the shutter is open, the more light hits the film, and the brighter the end result will be. If it is open for too long, the picture is what is referred to as overexposed and if it's not open long enough it will be underexposed (i.e. too dark). If there is a dark object and a bright object in the frame beyond the dynamic range of the film, the photographer have to make a choice if they're going to expose for the dark object, which would overexpose the bright object, or expose for the bright object, which would underexpose the dark object. Some landscape photographers solve this problem by taking two or more pictures with different exposures and then merge them in the lab. I.e. one picture is exposed for the bright object and another is exposed for the dark object. I think would've been better if Vox had consulted with a professional photographer before releasing something that is factually incorrect. To be frank, it's quite embarrassing.

1 week ago

If black people created film in a majority black country, it would be designed and tested on black people. Could any white people living there claim those engineers were being racist too? : /

1 week ago

racial bias is just a code term for anti-white.

1 week ago

Its like thw purpose of every awful video you release is trying to re segregate america. Choke on a chode vox

2 weeks ago

Oh Vox...
This is one of the stupidest videos I have ever seen. There's so many flaws to this. Glad to see people in the comments have common sense

2 weeks ago

My first digital camera was racist as hell, I remember I was trying to take picture of black person in low light conditions and the stupid thing just went into full KKK mode ((((

2 weeks ago

😂

2 weeks ago

I do lighting for stage and film (did lights for Bill Cosby). Certain colors shined on black people make them look bad. It has nothing to do with racism, it has to do with the nature of light and the skin of black people. As a matter of fact if you were trained in lighting you would be taught that certain colors don't look good on Black people and not to use them. I guess the good Lord just blessed white people with color filter privileged as well as white privileged. The (((lefties))) at VOX are race baiting again.

2 weeks ago

I must add that it is also sexist. Naming the card a Shirley card which cuts out those who are gender confused. It should be a they card. Also I must add that the digitals have the larger dynamic range so handle darker skin much better. This whole it is racist is as usual from childish minds why this nation is so screwed up. Because you Vox, and grievance industry folks are showing your desperation to be relevant in a world where people pretty much get along left to their own devices.

2 weeks ago

Vox was made for idiots

2 weeks ago

And here's why literally nobody takes you seriously.

2 weeks ago

Imagine a product made for 90%+ of a country's population what an outrage

2 weeks ago

So white people again rescued black people by making cameras and stock that would render them in a more accurate way. Did Vox even entertain the idea that this was all supply and demand? Did Vox know that non white countries also had film industries?

3 weeks ago

Libtard bullshit!!!

1 month ago

Wow, it's almost like technological limitations could have an effect on what groups of people film companies could market to and Kodak decided to market to the majority of people so as to make a profit.
HOW RACIST.

1 month ago

While I don’t believe this video goes out of its way to frame Kodak as being racist, I would like to point something out for those who may believe otherwise. In the 1990s, Kodak released a colour film stock known as Kodak ProImage 100. It was released to address the problem so kindly showcased in this video. The film was corrected for darker skin tones. So no, Kodak isn’t racist. This is simply a flaw with film as a technology.

IIRC ProImage is being made to this day and sold in eastern countries.

1 month ago

Nuclear weapons are the ultimate equalizer. White, black, gay, or straight, you get vaporized either way.

1 month ago

BS...

1 month ago

Next, teeth are racist. Milk is racist, wait, they already said milk was racist lol https://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/us_5bffad35e4b0864f4f6a3e28/amp
The Troubling Link Between Milk And Racism
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/17/us/white-supremacists-science-dna.amp.html
Why White Supremacists Are Chugging Milk (and Why Geneticists ...
http://amp.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/mar/17/milk-new-symbol-racism-donald-trumps-america/
Milk: The new symbol of racism in Donald Trump's America ...

1 month ago

lmFao.. where was the mixed race again?
and why was the comparison of three white boys on
a sunny dock to a group of black people at an overcast river bank compared as the same lighting or aperture?

1 month ago

Lies

1 month ago

Anti social justice movement was here.

1 month ago

I am going to say the n word

1 month ago

Ahhhh, film was a problem, I get it now.

1 month ago

Black people reflect less light , simple as that.....

1 month ago

that moment when some random company decides that technology being stupid or a camera not detecting darker skin tones because they give off less light is racism

1 month ago

Fish: "Hmmmmm, I see the racist hook...Uh, yeeeeeeeaaaahhhhh, I'm not gonna bite...

Unlike, most of the commenters on here did."

1 month ago

3:13 "Our webcams are not racist"😂 The product of SJWs

1 month ago

people stay so mad god...... the camera was built with white people in mind. they weren't really thinking about whether or not it affected people with darker skin tones. it's not necessarily that they were intentionally leaving them out, but even when the problem persisted, nobody tried to fix it until other companies (wood & chocolate) complained. thats what the problem is. but stay mad

1 month ago

And wood looked even woody-er than today.

2 weeks ago

Not to disappoint you but the chocolate factory story is utter bullshit, I got color slides from the late 30's also featuring some chocolate and it looks gorgeous and delicious.

2 weeks ago

Racist channel. Why is this not taken down?

1 month ago

Racist propaganda

1 month ago

Jesus Christ guys, you are really reaching here.

1 month ago

Color photography was invented by a Polish Jan Szczepanik in the 1920s

1 month ago

what a crock. I'm a photographer and filmmaker and this is all B.S. Funny how Sidney Poitier looks awesome against white people in color films of the time. Dynamic Range is racist? lol.

1 month ago