‘Racist Cameras’…Still?

:

I LOVE pictures and the art of photography! However, I want to preface this post by saying that I admittedly know VERY little about photography. I am trying to pick up a few things here and there, but I do not claim to be an expert by any means. (There seems to be more science involved than I thought. I oftentimes crave the blissful ignorance of a point-and-shoot.) However, I can tell you that I noticed VERY early that even the art of photography is limited by its natural tendency to segment according to race and color. When helping shoot an after-prom party, it was really hard for me to capture the natural skin tones of the couples who were not of similar complexions. (…I also had to take many breaks because my weak wrist apparently couldn’t take the weight of the lens.)
 


I LOVE pictures and the art of photography! However, I want to preface this post by saying that I admittedly know VERY little about photography. I am trying to pick up a few things here and there, but I do not claim to be an expert by any means. (There seems to be more science involved than I thought. I oftentimes crave the blissful ignorance of a point-and-shoot.) However, I can tell you that I noticed VERY early that even the art of photography is limited by its natural tendency to segment according to race and color. When helping shoot an after-prom party, it was really hard for me to capture the natural skin tones of the couples who were not of similar complexions. (…I also had to take many breaks because my weak wrist apparently couldn’t take the weight of the lens.)
 



The above picture of Ryan and me was a taken in a bar in NYC so the lighting was not the best to begin with. I spent hours trying to edit the picture (in JPEG and raw). Nope! Simultaneous enhancements did not happen…and that’s why it ended up being purple. If I lightened one way, Ryan faded out. If I darkened to include Ryan, I drifted away. I sat there for at least an hour trying to figure out how to enhance both of our features simultaneously, and photoshop wasn’t having it!


Lest you think I’m completely photog-illiterate, my thoughts were confirmed again over this past weekend. I had the privilege of an impromptu photography lesson with a professional photographer at a wedding. I was asking him about the “inherently bigoted/racist camera” theory, and he told me I was right! Camera settings are still not yet equipped to properly deal with differing skin tones. Take for instance the many weddings he shoots in Vegas. An Asian bride in a white dress, a black bride in a white dress, and a white bride in a white dress all require different lighting and settings. Now choose whichever permutation you’d like to start with, and then pick your color groom…and then add in the wedding party. It’d certainly be more convenient if everyone ‘looked alike’. Even with all of the recent technological advancements in digital photography, it can get quite complicated when taking photos involving varying skin tones and color combos… and that’s just colors.
The photog went on to remind me of the fairly well-known ‘racist camera’ phenomenon regarding the face-detection feature. Ya know, the one that resulted in the infamous blog post by Joz Wang entitled “Racist Camera! No, I did not blink… I’m just Asian!”, the numerous blog responses, the HP YouTube video, and the follow-up Time.com article. (For those who missed out, please see the article link.)

(Me and James the Photog [both Nikon fans!] – Look him up if ever need great shots in Vegas!)

Despite my limited knowledge of the craft and what I consider to be Jetsons-like advancements with ‘all things digital’, there is clearly much work to be done in the field. And, I am a true believer that diversity breeds innovation, whether in healthcare, engineering, the arts, or IT! It’s been a couple a years since the inital blog post and the resulting firestorm. I am  looking forward to what will come next!



Leave a Comment