(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘accuracy

“A portrait is not made in the camera but on either side of it”*…

We tend to think of the camera as a neutral technology; it isn’t. In dealing with the vast spectrum of human colors, photographic tools and practices tend to prioritize the lighter end of that range. And that bias has been there since the very beginning…

In 1888, George Eastman introduced a camera that revolutionized photography, making it accessible to thousands of amateurs. Kodak simplified the camera and offered to process film for the consumer. One of the company’s early advertising slogans was: “You press the button, we do the rest.” Kodak quickly grew into the biggest player in the industry. The company became almost synonymous with photography itself — like the Kleenex of cameras.

To meet the booming demand for photo processing and printing services, one hour photo labs popped up all over the country. And Kodak supplied a lot of those labs with printers. Each Kodak printer needed to be calibrated and standardized before photos were printed on it. And so the printers came with something called a “Shirley Card,” which was a color reference card created by Kodak in the 1950s. The original one had some color swatches and a picture of a white woman named Shirley Page, who worked as a Kodak employee at the time.

Kodak would ship printed Shirley cards to photo labs across the country, along with the film negatives needed to print the same image. Lab technicians processed the film, printed it, and ended up with multiple test prints. This allowed them to compare the Shirley card printed at Kodak with the Shirley cards printed in their lab. If something didn’t look right with the colors, they’d adjust. Once the printers were set, they’d start feeding film into the machines.

As time went on, Kodak began including other women on the cards, not just Shirley Page, but the name ‘Shirley Card’ stuck. Also, these new Shirleys all shared a common trait: they were all white, which meant that the printers were effectively set for white skin. And Shirley was basically used to calibrate every printer, every time, regardless of the color of the people in the actual photographs being printed. To get accurate prints of a person with darker skin you might have to adjust the printer settings. But that just wasn’t happening at most one hour photo labs. They weren’t about customized service. They were about being fast, standardized, and relatively cheap.

But way that photography prioritizes white skin goes beyond the role of the Shirley cards. If that were the only problem, it would be relatively easy to fix.

Instead, issues can start much earlier in the process, including with the lighting and camera settings used to capture the picture… the film itself, which was optimized for white skin.

Kodak was slow to adapt, but eventually did — not because they were listening to the complaints from people of color. Rather, Kodak changed their film because they were going to lose the business of two big professional clients: a chocolate company, and a furniture company. Again, it was a dynamic range issue. According to Earl Kage, the former manager of Kodak Research studios, the company had never even considered how expanding the dynamic range of their film would also improve how dark skin tones show up.

By the 80s, Kodak made adjustments to their film emulsions, and eventually introduced a product called Gold Max. Gold Max was leaps ahead of earlier Kodak films when it came to color representation — and the company advertised it that way, but without actually acknowledging the bias that had been baked into the film before. As Kodak started becoming more aware of racial bias in color imaging, they also introduced a multiracial Shirley Card…

But even though the technology of today is way better than the technology of the 1960s and 70s, there is still a lot of cultural inertia preventing dark skin from being photographed in compelling ways. Photography — and cinematography — isn’t just about the film used or the digital sensor in your camera or the techniques used to process your images. It’s also about lighting and staging and all these other elements. In other words, photography is still all about choices. And, in many ways, people still stumble when creating images of darker skin.

Nowadays, it’s much less the technology we’re working against when it comes to accurate representation in images. It’s the users of the technology and the institutions around them, that shape the images we see. Even if Kodak’s early promise was total ease — “you press the button, we do the rest” — the technology will never achieve point-and-click perfection. Because no technology is ever neutral. There will always be choices, and trade-offs and aesthetic judgments. The camera is an amazing tool, but creating a beautiful image…that part is up to us…

Shirley Cards,” from 99% Invisible (@99piorg)

* Edward Steichen

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As we ruminate on representation, we might send well-lit, clearly-realized birthday greetings to Michael Busselle; he was born on this date in 1935. An accomplished photographer, he is perhaps better known as the author of many books of practical advice for photographers. His first book, Master Photography, has sold over a million copies worldwide. As his career developed, so did his sensitivity to the issues explored above; his later books (like The Art of Photographic Lighting) attempt to address them.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 14, 2021 at 1:00 am

“In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”*…

 

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For years, the Internet Archive has been acquiring books (their goal is every book ever published) and warehousing them and scanning them. Now, these books are being “woven into Wikipedia” with a new tool that automatically links every Wikipedia citation to a print source to the exact page and passage from the book itself, which can be read on the Internet Archive.

Citations to print materials are both a huge potential strength and weakness for Wikipedia: a strength because there’s so much high-quality, authoritative information in print; and a weakness because people can make up (or discount) print citations and bamboozle other Wikipedians who can’t see the books in question to debate their content, context, or whether they should be included at all.

Archive founder Brewster Kahle kicked off the initiative after a discussion with Wikimedia’s executive director Katherine Maher, who was “worried that truth might fracture.”

Wikipedia is a key battleground in the war against disinformation, and the Internet Archive’s measures — which were presented to Congressional staffers yesterday — are a huge advance on the state of the art.

“I want this,” said Brewster Kahle’s neighbor Carmen Steele, age 15, “at school I am allowed to start with Wikipedia, but I need to quote the original books. This allows me to do this even in the middle of the night.”

For example, the Wikipedia article on Martin Luther King, Jr cites the book To Redeem the Soul of America, by Adam Fairclough. That citation now links directly to page 299 inside the digital version of the book provided by the Internet Archive. There are 66 cited and linked books on that article alone.

Readers can see a couple of pages to preview the book and, if they want to read further, they can borrow the digital copy using Controlled Digital Lending in a way that’s analogous to how they borrow physical books from their local library.

Via Boing Boing: “The Internet Archive’s massive repository of scanned books will help Wikipedia fight the disinformation wars“; for more details, read The Internet Archive’s announcement here.

“Together we can achieve Universal Access to All Knowledge, said, one linked book, paper, web page, news article, music file, video and image at a time.”

– Mark Graham, Director of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine

* George Orwell

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As we accelerate access, we might send insightfully-humorous birthday greetings to William Penn Adair Rogers; he was born on this date in 1879.  A stage and motion picture actor, vaudeville performer, cowboy, humorist, newspaper columnist, and social commentator, he he traveled around the world three times, made 71 films (50 silent films and 21 “talkies”), and wrote more than 4,000 nationally syndicated newspaper columns.  By the mid-1930s Rogers was hugely popular in the United States, its leading political wit and the highest paid of Hollywood film stars.  He died in 1935 with aviator Wiley Post when their small airplane crashed in northern Alaska.

Known as “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son,” Rogers was a Cherokee citizen, born to a Cherokee family in Indian Territory (now part of Oklahoma).

“I am not a member of an organized political party. I am a Democrat.”- Will Rogers

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 4, 2019 at 1:01 am

The Truth, Some of the Truth, Some of the Time…

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“The problem with Internet quotations is that many are not genuine.”
– Abraham Lincoln

from Clayton Cramer, via Tomorrow Museum.

As we engage the elements of epistemology, we might recall that it was on this date in 1937 that Hal Foster debuted his long-running comic strip Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur, or more familiarly Prince Valiant.  Foster had earlier distinguished himself drawing Tarzan; when he pitched his original idea to William Randolph Hearst, the baron was so impressed that he (uncharacteristically) gave Foster full ownership of the strip.

The Arthurian saga is clearly meant to take place in the mid-Fifth century, but Foster juiced both the story and its setting with anachronistic elements: Viking longships, Muslims, alchemists and technological advances not made before the Renaissance all play roles; while many of the the fortifications, armor and armament used are from the High Middle Ages.

The strip continues to this day, now in the hands of Mark Schultz and Gary Gianni… and is available on the verisimilitudinally-challenged internet.

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