Picture this: You start your new job or you graduate from school, and you get your picture taken. When you finally see the result on a computer screen or on a print, you think to yourself, “That doesn’t look like me at all.” Your hair might be off. Your skin might be too red or too grey. The outfit you took care to pick out, now clashes with your skin tone. It’s often said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but what happens when your picture doesn’t look like you?
For the longest time, 35mm color film by Kodak was developed using what is known as a “Shirley Card,” which featured a white woman and color gradients that correspond with her particular skin tone. This card was the standard to create the chemicals necessary to develop pictures. Photographs captured of BIPOC birthdays, graduations, and marriages didn’t have the same fidelity as white subjects, since the Shirley Card was calibrated for one skin tone.
It was only until major companies in the chocolate and furniture industries complained about not being able to properly photograph their dark toned products that something started to change. That was in the 60’s and 70’s. It took Kodak approximately 30 years later to recognize the need to include different skin tones with their 1995 Multiracial Shirley Card. The benefits for representing BIPOC skin tones were only a byproduct of these companies being able to market their merchandise.
In summary, racial bias embedded itself within the design of image making technology. Furthermore, the impetus to fix that problem was sparked by financial reasons, rather than inclusion.