Kodak's Racial Bias Study

Lorna Roth’s study of the Kodak Shirley cards calibration system is an important example of the evolution of photography in regard to diversity, but also a critic of the racial bias that was built in photography. Roth’s study focuses on the calibration system the color cameras have had since the 1950s. The cameras were capable of recognizing white skin easier and portray depth, contour, and other aspects. However, for the black individual it did not recognize different tonalities of black skin nor did it allow for light to show the physical features of an individual. This topic is fundamental not only to the idea of intersectionality but also to understand the way in which bodies are mass-produced. If black models are not capable to be photographed due to inconsistencies with the camera then beauty magazines will only portray white models. This issue remained until chocolate and furniture companies complained about the Kodak film not being able to differentiate different shadows of brown and black. It was until the late 1970s when Kodak addressed the issue of the Shirley card (20 years later) and created the multiracial card, the Asian card, the Latino card, and so on [1] … The issue remains a topic of discussion, especially due to the fact that this occurred in the middle of the civil rights movement and early second-wave feminism. It is important not only to understand these hurdles that existed in photography but also the fact that they were overcome. Below there are some of the different cards that were produced by Kodak.

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[1] Roth, Lorna. "Looking at Shirley, the Ultimate Norm: Colour Balance, Image Technologies, and Cognitive Equity." Canadian Journal of Communication 34, no. 1 (2009): 111-136. doi:http://dx.doi.org.mutex.gmu.edu/10.22230/cjc.2009v34n1a2196.https://searchproquest-com.mutex.gmu.edu/docview/219534659?accountid=14541.

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