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Thread started 12 Apr 2018 (Thursday) 15:38
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Setting the Record Straight: Shirley was not racist.

Adorama says I'm "packed."
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Apr 12, 2018 15:38 |  #1

First for the record, I'm black (or, if you prefer, African-American) myself. I've been black for 65 years.

And I was doing color printing back in 1972, so I was using Shirley negatives before Kodak got "woke."

Someone brought up this old NPR report to me recently, and I was annoyed by the lack of real scholarship involved in the rush to push an agenda: …aphy-s-skin-tone-standard (external link)

They got the origin of the Shirley negative correct enough.

Then Lorna Roth, a media professor at Canada's Concordia University spun a tall tale about how the Shirley was the basis for how all color film was formulated until the late 70s.

"According to Roth, the dynamic range of the film — both still photo stock and motion picture — was biased toward white skin."

I doubt it. For one thing, Kodak wasn't the only company in the world making color film.

Nor was color film only created in the 50s, when the article notes the Shirley negative was first created.

Third, Ii cannot be said that Caucasian skin was the basis for color film formulation. Portraits of people (specifically white people) wasn't even the primary use of color film in its early decades. Formal portraits were still mostly black and white into the 60s. Many, many amateur photographers who were particularly critical of color accuracy were involved in other uses such as horticulture and artwork replication.

Science and government were always Kodak's most critical and significant customers. Kodak was the primary film provider for military and national surveillance programs, for instance, where differences between shades of browns and greens indicated whether foliage was camouflage or natural. Their goal wasn't a good Caucasian skin tone, their goal was accurate reproduction of all colors.

Film scientists all over the world were not using a Kodak photograph of a Caucasian woman (from the 50s) to formulate their films, they were using highly controlled color samples--like those we use to calibrate our equipment today, but even more tightly controlled. They measured accuracy by the numbers, not by skin tone.

Even when I was using Shirley negatives in the early 70s, the real tests were not from the skin tone image, they were from the gray tones. We measured the gray and checked the numbers, the same way it's done in Photoshop today (just a lot more work). Glancing at the skin tone was just a "sanity check" after the numbers were right. Really critical use didn't involve a Shirley, the photographer included a full-color patch card at the edge of the image, and that patch card stayed with the image all the way through final lithography.

The problem--and it was a real problem--was that early films lacked dynamic range. Therefore photographers who were photographing white people exposed for white people. I will also testify personally that photographers who were shooting black people exposed for black people. However, really savvy photographers could capture both in the same image by proper lighting and posing (the actual difference between really pale skin and really dark skin is four stops--if you don't acerbate the situation with contrasty lighting, you can capture it).

Left ­ Handed ­ Brisket
That's my line!
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Apr 12, 2018 17:06 |  #2

Definitely a weird POV in that article. Considering that the one videorapher boycotted Kodak back in the day, I'm not sure it's so much the author pushing an agenda but maybe just a sign of the times back then?

The color tech from the 70's says "I wasn't attempting to be politically correct. I was just trying to give us a chance of making a better film", and the article is posted under a banner of "color decoded" (not race related).

But yeah, I do see where you're coming from.

Also, the "for 65 years" thing made me laugh. :D

PSA: The above post may contain sarcasm, reply at your own risk | Not in gear database: Auto Sears 50mm 2.0 / 3x CL-360, Nikon SB-28, SunPak auto 322 D, Minolta 20

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Setting the Record Straight: Shirley was not racist.
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