(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘discrimination

“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

“The more prohibitions you have, the less virtuous people will be”*…

From the annals of temperance, a particularly tasty (albeit tasteless) tidbit…

Near the end of the 19th century, New Yorkers out for a drink partook in one of the more unusual rituals in the annals of hospitality. When they ordered an ale or whisky, the waiter or bartender would bring it out with a sandwich. Generally speaking, the sandwich was not edible. It was “an old desiccated ruin of dust-laden bread and mummified ham or cheese,” wrote the playwright Eugene O’Neill. Other times it was made of rubber. Bar staff would commonly take the sandwich back seconds after it had arrived, pair it with the next beverage order, and whisk it over to another patron’s table. Some sandwiches were kept in circulation for a week or more.

Bar owners insisted on this bizarre charade to avoid breaking the law—specifically, the excise law of 1896, which restricted how and when drinks could be served in New York State. The so-called Raines Law was a combination of good intentions, unstated prejudices, and unforeseen consequences, among them the comically unsavory Raines sandwich.

The new law did not come out of nowhere. Republican reformers, many of them based far upstate in Albany, had been trying for years to curb public drunkenness. They were also frustrated about New York City’s lax enforcement of so-called Sabbath laws, which included a ban on Sunday boozing. New York Republicans spoke for a constituency largely comprised of rural and small-town churchgoers. But the party had also gained a foothold in Democratic New York City, where a 37-year-old firebrand named Theodore Roosevelt had been pushing a law-and-order agenda as president of the city’s newly organized police commission. Roosevelt, a supporter of the Raines Law, predicted that it would “solve whatever remained of the problem of Sunday closing.”

New York City at the time was home to some 8,000 saloons. The seediest among them were “dimly lit, foul-smelling, rickety-chaired, stale-beer dives” that catered to “vagrants, shipless sailors, incompetent thieves, [and] aging streetwalkers,” Richard Zacks writes in Island of Vice, his book-length account of Roosevelt’s reform campaign.

The 1896 Raines Law was designed to put dreary watering holes like these out of business. It raised the cost of an annual liquor license to $800, three times what it had cost before and a tenfold increase for beer-only taverns. It stipulated that saloons could not open within 200 feet of a school or church, and raised the drinking age from 16 to 18. In addition, it banned one of the late 19th-century saloon’s most potent enticements: the free lunch. At McSorley’s, for example, cheese, soda bread, and raw onions were on the house. (The 160-year-old bar still sells a tongue-in-cheek version of this today.) Most controversial of all was the law’s renewed assault on Sunday drinking. Its author, Finger Lakes region senator John W. Raines, eliminated the “golden hour” grace period that followed the stroke of midnight on Saturday. His law also forced saloon owners to keep their curtains open on Sunday, making it considerably harder for patrolmen to turn a blind eye…

Behind this lifestyle tug-of-war lay a cultural conflict of national proportions. Those in favor of the Sunday ban, generally middle-class and Protestant, saw it as a cornerstone of social improvement. For those against, including the city’s tide of German and Irish immigrants, it was an act of repression—an especially spiteful one because it limited how the average laborer could enjoy himself on his one day off. The Sunday ban was not popular, to say the least, among the city’s Jews, who’d already observed their Sabbath the day before.

Opponents pointed out that existing Sabbath drinking laws were hypocritical anyway. An explicit loophole had been written into the law itself: it allowed lodging houses with ten rooms or more to serve guests drinks with meals seven days a week. Not incidentally, wealthy New Yorkers tended to dine out at the city’s ritzy hotel restaurants on Sundays, the usual day off for live-in servants.

Intentionally or not, the Raines Law left wiggle room for the rich. But a loophole was a loophole, and Sunday was many a proprietor’s most profitable day of business. By the following weekend, a vanguard of downtown saloon-owners were gleefully testing the law’s limits. A suspicious number of private “clubs” were founded that April, and saloons started handing out membership cards to their regulars. Meanwhile, proprietors converted basements and attic spaces into “rooms,” cut hasty deals with neighboring lodging-houses, and threw tablecloths over pool tables. They also started dishing up the easiest, cheapest, most reusable meal they could get away with: the Raines sandwich.

The Raines Law debacle was merely a prelude for what was to come. New York reformers had long allied themselves with the Anti-Saloon League, a civilian organization with Midwestern origins that would morph into one of the most powerful pressure groups in U.S. history. By 1919, the efforts of the ASL made nationwide Prohibition the law of the land, putting an end to such quaint half-measures as the Raines sandwich and replacing the Raines hotel with the speakeasy.

Ubiquitous– and inedible: “To Evade Pre-Prohibition Drinking Laws, New Yorkers Created the World’s Worst Sandwich.”

Laozi

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As we reach for the beer nuts, we might recall that today is National Liqueur Day.

The word liqueur comes from the Latin liquifacere, which means to liquefy. A liqueur is an alcoholic beverage made from a distilled spirit. Distillers flavor the spirit with fruit, cream, herbs, spices, flowers, or nuts. Next, they bottle it with added sugar or other sweeteners. While liqueurs are typically considerably sweet, distillers do not usually age their product long. They do, however, allow a resting period during production, which allows the flavors to marry.

With the broad selection of spirits available in seasonal, fragrant, and often curious flavors (vodkas and rums in particular), there is often confusion of liqueurs and liquors. In the United States and Canada, spirits are frequently called liquor. The most reliable rule of thumb to follow suggests that liqueurs comprise a sweeter, syrupy consistency, while liquors do not. Most liqueurs also have a lower alcohol content than spirits. However, some do contain as much as 55% ABV.

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“We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”*…

 

NYC_IRS_office_by_Matthew_Bisanz

 

Nine years ago, Republican lawmakers gutted the IRS’s budget, but didn’t relax its requirement to conduct random audits: in response, the IRS has shifted its focus from auditing rich people (who can afford fancy accountants to use dirty tricks to avoid paying taxes) to auditing poor people (who can’t afford professional help and might make minor mistakes filling in the highly technical and complex tax forms), until today, an IRS audit is just as likely to target low-income earner whose meager pay entitles them to a tax credit is as it is to target a filer from the top one percent of US earners.

Propublica pointed this out in an excellent tax-season report last April, and Senator Ron Wyden [D-OR] took up the issue with the IRS. Now, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig has provided a report to Senator Wyden admitting that his agency targets poor people because they can’t afford to appeal the audits, making them cost-effective notches on the IRS’s bedpost.

Rettig’s report admits that auditing rich people would turn up more fraud and bring in more money for the US government, but says that he can’t afford to do so unless Congress restores the IRS’s funding. There’s bipartisan support for such a measure, but with Sen. Mitch McConnell blocking any Senate action, there may not be any more appropriations bills in 2019…

The sad story in full at “IRS admits it audits poor people because auditing rich people is too expensive.”

Pair with “The Rich Really Do Pay Lower Taxes Than You.”

* Leona Helmsley

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As we shake our heads, we might recall that it was on this date in 2011, a Saturday, that Weezer’s ex-bassist Mikey Welsh passed away.  Two weeks earlier, on September 26th, he had tweeted “Dreamt I died in Chicago next weekend (heart attack in my sleep). Need to write my will today,” followed by “Correction – the weekend after next”.  He died from a heart attack in his sleep.  In a hotel room.  In Chicago.

1234619-mikey-welsh-617-409 source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 8, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Nevertheless She Persisted”*…

 

In 1987 the US Congress designated March as National Women’s History Month. This creates a special opportunity in our schools, our workplaces, and our communities to recognize and celebrate the too-often-overlooked achievements of American women.

The 2018 National Women’s History theme presents the opportunity to honor women who have shaped America’s history and its future through their tireless commitment to ending discrimination against women and girls. The theme embodies women working together with strength, tenacity and courage to overcome obstacles and achieve joyful accomplishments.   Throughout this year, we honor fifteen outstanding women for their unrelenting and inspirational persistence, and for  understanding that, by fighting all forms of   discrimination against women and girls, they have shaped America’s history and our future.  Their lives demonstrate the power of voice, of persistent action, and of believing that meaningful and lasting  change is possible in our democratic society. Through this theme we celebrate women fighting not only against sexism, but also against the many intersecting forms of discrimination faced by American women including discrimination based on race and ethnicity, class, disability, sexual orientation, veteran status, and many other categories. From spearheading legislation against segregation to leading the reproductive justice movement, our 2018 honorees are dismantling the structural, cultural, and legal forms of discrimination that for too long have plagued American women.

Meet the honorees at the National Women’s History Project‘s “Themes and Honorees.”

See also: “Voices in Time: Epistolary Activism– an early nineteenth-century feminist fights back against a narrow view of woman’s place in society.”

* This phrase was born in February 2017 when Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, was silenced during Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing for Attorney General. At the time, Warren was reading an opposition letter penned by Coretta Scott King in 1986. Referring to the incident, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, later said “Senator Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless she persisted.” Feminists immediately adopted the phrase in hashtags and memes to refer to any strong women who refuse to be silenced.

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As we give credit where credit is due, we might recall that women’s challenges in America have a painfully long history; it was on this date in 1692 that  Sarah GoodSarah Osborne, and Tituba are brought before local magistrates in Salem Village, Massachusetts, beginning what would become known as the Salem witch trials.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 1, 2018 at 1:01 am

Color me _____ …

Feeling  _____?  About to head out for a night on the town in _____?  Then dress in _____!

From Zoho:Lab, an interactive version of (R)D favorite David McCandless’ “Colours of Cultures“…

click the image above, or here, for full-screen interactive version

And for a grid version, click here.

As we reorganize our sock drawers, we might recall that on this date in 1896 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that color mattered in a different kind of way: it ruled that separate-but-equal facilities were constitutional on intrastate railroads.  For half a century thereafter, the Plessy v. Ferguson decision upheld the principle of racial segregation in the U.S., across which laws mandated separate accommodations on buses and trains, and in hotels, theaters, and schools.  While the Court’s majority opinion denied that legalized segregation connoted inferiority, a dissenting opinion from Justice John Marshall Harlan argued that segregation in public facilities smacked of servitude and abridged the principle of equality under the law.

At a Rome, Georgia bus station, 1949 (source)

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