A brief history of color photography reveals an obvious but unsettling reality about human bias.

In the 1970s, Kodak got called out by some furniture companies because their film wasn't working right.

Light-grained or dark-grained wood tones, in photographs developed from Kodak film, all looked basically the same, which sucked when it came to advertising.


"WTF? This is not what it looked like in the catalog!" All images via Vox/YouTube.

Then chocolate companies started raising hell. Milk chocolate? Dark chocolate? No one could tell the difference. With money on the line, Kodak finally decided to look into it.

Kodak's color problems actually began decades earlier, when they were setting standards for color balance.

They weren't basing it on wood or chocolate samples. They were basing it on skin color and what was considered "ideal."

A video by Vox (which you can watch below) takes us into a darkroom and reveals in full color how human bias can distort our lives in unsuspecting ways.

Color film was designed for a precise consumer market whose likeness was on a printed image called "The Shirley."

Shirley cards, named after a former Kodak studio model, were images used as the standard for color calibration in photo labs all over the world.

A 1978 Shirley card. Long after model Shirley Page left Kodak and new models were hired, they continued to call the cards "The Shirley."

When a lab ordered a Kodak printer, the company sent Shirley cards with them as a guide. Technicians would adjust the color settings to match the model's skin tone.

Models for Shirley cards were always white women.

To color match "Shirley's" skin tone was to achieve a "normal" color balance, a setting that was applied to everyone's film, regardless of skin color.

Ohhhh, so that's what normal people look like.

Some might describe the exclusionary practice as rational economic behavior, or a decision believed to be made in the company's best interest. Lorna Roth, professor of communications studies at Concordia University, explained to NPR:

"At the time, in the '50s, the people who were buying cameras were mostly Caucasian people. And so I guess they didn't see the need for the market to expand to a broader range of skin tones."

In retrospect, we can see there was nothing rational about it.

But even those who wanted to optimize photos for darker skin tones couldn't do it.

Color photography involves a mix of chemicals, both in the film and in the development process. According to Vox, "for many decades, chemicals that would bring out various reddish, yellow, and brown tones were largely left out."

So, says Roth in the video, "if you're shooting people with lighter skins, it looks good."

"If you're shooting people with darker skins, it doesn't look so good."

"If you're shooting mixed race in the same screen, then we see the real problems."

As the entertainment industry got more diverse, film technology has had to get less racially exclusive.

Newer camera systems were created with computer chips that let people independently adjust color settings for different skin tones. And with the new technology came new Shirley cards that better reflected the world's diversity.

They were a step in the right direction...

...but some of them were problematic in their own right.

One decade at a time, I guess?

We've come a long way, but we haven't escaped racial bias in camera technology.

The new frontier for imaging equality is — you guessed it — digital.

In 2009, Hewlett-Packard was (hilariously) accused of making a "racist" computer.

"Technology should be the ultimate equalizer," says Vox. "It should serve everyone's needs without an inherent bias."

It took Kodak decades to address their discriminatory practices with film. Sadly, it was pressure from business interests, not an attack of conscience, that got them to act.

Imagine how quickly this and countless other challenges could be solved if they were being solved not for money but because it's the right thing to do.

Check out the video by Vox. It's so worth just a few minutes of your day.

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash
True

This story was originally shared on Capital One.

Inside the walls of her kitchen at her childhood home in Guatemala, Evelyn Klohr, the founder of a Washington, D.C.-area bakery called Kakeshionista, was taught a lesson that remains central to her business operations today.

"Baking cakes gave me the confidence to believe in my own brand and now I put my heart into giving my customers something they'll enjoy eating," Klohr said.

While driven to launch her own baking business, pursuing a dream in the culinary arts was economically challenging for Klohr. In the United States, culinary schools can open doors to future careers, but the cost of entry can be upwards of $36,000 a year.

Through a friend, Klohr learned about La Cocina VA, a nonprofit dedicated to providing job training and entrepreneurship development services at a training facility in the Washington, D.C-area.

La Cocina VA's, which translates to "the kitchen" in Spanish, offers its Bilingual Culinary Training program to prepare low-and moderate-income individuals from diverse backgrounds to launch careers in the food industry.

That program gave Klohr the ability to fully immerse herself in the baking industry within a professional kitchen facility and receive training in an array of subjects including culinary skills, food safety, career development and English language classes.

Keep Reading Show less

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

Keep Reading Show less
True

When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."