In the history of photography, the equipment and processes in portraiture were often calibrated with lighter skin in mind. Buzzfeed‘s As/Is made this video in which it did a photo shoot with dark skin models and had them share about times in which their skin tone was poorly reflected on camera.
The models share common experiences of over-brightened skin, badly lit portraits, strange hues, and underexposed faces in group shots. These issues can come up when working with photographers and retouchers who aren’t experienced in creating portraits with dark skin.
The New York Times recently published an article titled, “The Racial Bias Built Into Photography.”
Light skin became the chemical baseline for film technology, fulfilling the needs of its target dominant market. For example, developing color-film technology initially required what was called a Shirley card. When you sent off your film to get developed, lab technicians would use the image of a white woman with brown hair named Shirley as the measuring stick against which they calibrated the colors. Quality control meant ensuring that Shirley’s face looked good.
The Times states that although Kodak released a multi-racial Shirley Card in the mid-1990s — eventually with black, white, Asian, and Latina models — the change coincided with the rise of digital photography so it was too late to make an impact on earlier photographic conventions when it came to film.
But as the video above notes, darker skin is now starting to be celebrated more than it ever has been before.
“Our skin color isn’t something to overcome,” says actress Winter Dunn in the video. “It’s actually a gift. It’s time that we really own that, and I think we are.”