Teaching the Camera to See my Skin

This article resonated with me in many ways seeing that I am dark skinned woman myself who loves snapping photos and as well as being photographed. When I was younger, I thought that it was just an inherent feature of cameras to over expose my skin to a murky one shade of black. I figured that the problem lay rooted and physics and not with the design and designer of the camera and film, and therefore could not be fixed. However, in this article Syreeta McFadden brings up how companies in the 60’s and 70’s  (as well as currently) intentionally ignored issues and made conscious decisions that affected the outcome of photos and how cameras captured images. McFadden briefly mentions how Kodak ‘s film emulsions that could have easily been re-designed early on in order to complement darker skin tones.  However, Kodak introduced no such change until the 1970’s after hearing complaints from furniture companies who wanted their products to photograph better. Admittedly there doesn’t seem to have been much in the way of complaints from blacks and other people of colour. But if the change was so easily for them to implement, why wouldn’t have Kodak have done so years before?


McFadden also mentions in this article how photos were being processed and how the techniques used where favorable mostly for lightness only. She introduces the reader to the idea of Shirley cards—reference cards used to help the technician process photo correctly. However, seeing that they were based off a pale skinned woman, McFadden argued that this leaves all other tone ‘deviations from the norm’.


Towards the end of the article, she begins to tell us how she felt ugly growing up because of her dark skin and images in Western media of over processed dark skin looking “desperate, whipped and animalistic’, attributed to those feelings. The section of this paper that touched me most came shortly after this where she states:



 I only wonder if unbiased technologies were available to us then, could they have enabled an alternative story? If images produced by Western culture represented a wider variety of black and brown identities, images in stock agencies that showed black women in professional settings, or just carefree girls, jumping rope, swimming, camping, with all shades of light highlighting how light changes on our skin, that together we’d reach some accord, some comfortable vernacular about the diversity of beauty and humanness. I wonder if the technologies available to us in those days would have taught me early how to love the richness of my brown skin.


I have often wondered the same thing. Although I am now perfectly fine and in love with the color of my skin, I have wondered would have I come to this conclusion sooner (or even immediately) if there were more positive images available in western media of black women?



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