(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Kodak

“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

“Celebrity is the chastisement of merit and the punishment of talent”*…

 

people map

 

A People Map of the US, where city names are replaced by their most Wikipedia’ed resident: people born in, lived in, or connected to a place…

From our friends at The Pudding, a chart of our crazes– zoomable to reveal much more detail: “A People Map of the US.”

* Emily Dickinson

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As we obsess on obsession, we might recall that it was on this date in 2009 that Kodak ceded the victory of digital photography and announced that it would discontinue the production and sale of Kodachrome print and slide film, a repository of “precious memories” since 1935.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 22, 2019 at 1:01 am

99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, 99 Bottles of Beer…

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Tis the season of driving vacations, long flights– and thus, of pastime games.  Your correspondent suspects that license plate bingo is getting as stale for most readers as it is for him (besides which, it doesn’t work very well on an airplane).  So, a couple of alternatives:

The Double Feature Game: Players take turns imagining the marquee of a theater playing a particularly funny (or ironic or poignant) double bill; e.g.:

The Most Dangerous Game
Love Actually

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Psycho

W
Apocalypse Now

The Song Title Conversation Game: Players take turns suggesting two song titles, the second of which is a response to the first; e.g.,

“Who Do You Love,” George Thorogood — “Nobody But Me,” The Human Beinz

“Why Can’t This Night Go On Forever,” Journey — “Nothing Lasts Forever,” Maroon 5

“Make That Move,” Shalamar — “I’m Just Too Shy,” Jermaine Jackson

(TotH to Am I Right— “making fun of music, one song at a time”)

Hours of fun, Dear Readers; hours of fun!…

As we consider simply staying home, we might recall that it was on this date last year that Kodak ceded the victory of digital photography and announced that it would discontinue the production and sale of Kodachrome print and slide film, a tourist staple since 1935.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 22, 2010 at 12:01 am

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