Category Archive 'Photography'
29 Apr 2019

Latest Black Grievance

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Sarah Lewis is an Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture and African and African American Studies at Harvard University. She is currently finishing her current book project on race and photography under contract with Harvard University Press

“We have a problem. Your jacket is lighter than your face,” the technician said from the back of the one-thousand-person amphitheater-style auditorium. “That’s going to be a problem for lighting.” …

It was an odd comment that reverberated through the auditorium, a statement of the obvious that sounded like an accusation of wrongdoing. Another technician standing next to me stopped adjusting my microphone and jolted in place. The phrase hung in the air, and I laughed to resolve the tension in the room then offered back just the facts:

“Well, everything is lighter than my face. I’m black.”

“Touché,” said the technician organizing the event. She walked toward the lighting booth. My smile dropped upon realizing that perhaps the technician was actually serious. I assessed my clothes — a light beige jacket and black pants worn many times before in similar settings.

As I walked to the greenroom, the executive running the event came over and apologized for what had just occurred, but to me, the exchange was a gift.

My work looks at how the right to be recognized justly in a democracy has been tied to the impact of images and representation in the public realm. It examines how the construction of public pictures limits and enlarges our notion of who counts in American society. It is the subject of my core curriculum class at Harvard University. It also happened to be the subject of my presentation that day. …

What had happened in this exchange? It can be hard to technically [capture] light brown skin against light colors. Yet, instead of seeking a solution, the technician had decided that my body was somehow unsuitable for the stage.

Her comment reminded me of the unconscious bias that was built into photography. By categorizing light skin as the norm and other skin tones as needing special corrective care, photography has altered how we interact with each other without us realizing it.

Photography is not just a system of calibrating light, but a technology of subjective decisions. Light skin became the chemical baseline for film technology, fulfilling the needs of its target dominant market. For example, developing color-film technology initially required what was called a Shirley card. When you sent off your film to get developed, lab technicians would use the image of a white woman with brown hair named Shirley as the measuring stick against which they calibrated the colors. Quality control meant ensuring that Shirley’s face looked good. It has translated into the color-balancing of digital technology. In the mid-1990s, Kodak created a multiracial Shirley Card with three women, one black, one white, and one Asian, and later included a Latina model, in an attempt intended to help camera operators calibrate skin tones. These were not adopted by everyone since they coincided with the rise of digital photography. The result was film emulsion technology that still carried over the social bias of earlier photographic conventions.

It took complaints from corporate furniture and chocolate manufacturers in the 1960s and 1970s for Kodak to start to fix color photography’s bias. Earl Kage, Kodak’s former manager of research and the head of Color Photo Studios, received complaints during this time from chocolate companies saying that they “weren’t getting the right brown tones on the chocolates” in the photographs. Furniture companies also were not getting enough variation between the different color woods in their advertisements. Concordia University professor Lorna Roth’s research shows that Kage had also received complaints before from parents about the quality of graduation photographs — the color contrast made it nearly impossible to capture a diverse group — but it was the chocolate and furniture companies that forced Kodak’s hand. Kage admitted, “It was never black flesh that was addressed as a serious problem at the time.”

13.4% of Americans are of African American descent. Sarah Lewis acknowledges that the manufacturers’ design choices were dictated by the market, but nonetheless ignores the entire absence of intentional bias to base an entire book of complaint about, boo hoo! the racial injustice of it all.

All this is just another case of a spokesperson for Black America identifying the reality of a majority to which it does not belong as an intrinsic injustice and affront.

The reality is, of course, that almost no one in America belongs to the perfect American majoritarian conceptual ideal. Essentially only a tiny minority of Americans of 17th Century New England descent who are rich and who attended an elite boarding school followed by an Ivy League College followed by an equally prestigious professional school, and who successfully pursued a top tier career and belong to all the right clubs is truly a privileged insider.

All the rest of us are some kind of outsider, looking in. Even if you went to Harvard or Yale, chances are that you were born Catholic or Jewish or a member of some declassé Protestant denomination, not in New England, not to a wealthy or professional family, went to public school, and have never acquired membership in the Links, the Brook, or Bohemian Grove. These days, 1579 freshman enter Yale, and only 15 get tapped for Skull and Bones.

Even Travis McGee, tall, handsome, a hero with a houseboat, complains:

I am apart. Always I have seen around me all the games and parades of life and have always envied the players and the marchers. I watch the cards they play and feel in my belly the hollowness as the big drums go by, and I smile and shrug and say, Who needs games? Who wants parades? The world seems to be masses of smiling people who hug each other and sway back and forth in front of a fire and sing old songs and laugh into each other’s faces, all truth and trust.
And I kneel at the edge of the woods, too far to feel the heat of the fire.

Everything seems to come to me in some kind of secondhand way which I cannot describe. Am I not meat and tears, bone and fears, just as they? Yet when the most deeply touched, I seem, too often, to respond with smirk or sneer, another page in my immense catalog of remorses. I seem forever on the edge of expressing the inexpressible, touching what has never been touched, but I cannot reach through the veil of apartness. I am living without being truly alive. I can love without loving. When I am in the midst of friends, when there is laughter, closeness, empathy, warmth, sometimes I can look at myself from a little way off and think that they do not really know who is with them there, what strangeness is there beside them, trying to be something else.

Once, just deep enough into the cup to be articulate about subjective things, I tried to tell Meyer all this. I shall never forget the strange expression on his face. “But we are all like that!” he said. “That’s the way it is. For everyone in the world. Didn’t you know?”

The Scarlet Ruse by John D. MacDonald, 1973

We are all like that, but some of us bitch and moan out loud a lot more than the rest of us.

17 Apr 2019

Notre Dame Fire and Aftermath

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A picture taken on April 16, 2019 shows an interior view of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris in the aftermath of a fire that devastated the cathedral. – The Paris fire service announced that the last remnants of the blaze were extinguished on April 16, 15 hours after the fire broke out. Thousands of Parisians and tourists watched in horror from nearby streets on April 15 as flames engulfed the building and rescuers tried to save as much as they could of the cathedral’s treasures built up over centuries.

More photos from the Atlantic worth seeing here.

HT: Karen L. Myers.

11 Apr 2019

Heidelburg Students, Circa 1900

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HT: Karen L. Myers.

08 Apr 2019

The Abstract Textures of the Aurelian Walls: Photographs by Giampiero Sanguigni (2019)

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Fosca Lucarelli:

The Aurelian walls have marked the line of defense of Rome for 16 centuries, from their construction (270 to 275 AD), until September 20, 1870, when the kingdom of Italy conquered the city of Rome by breaching the sector of Porta Pia.

About one-sixth of the walls integrated existing structures, like the Cestius’s Pyramid, the Amphitheatrum Castrense, the Castra Praetoria, among the more notable ones, allowing a rapid construction during the critical period of Barbarian invasions.

Over time, the walls underwent radical structural interventions (such as the height doubling) or cosmetic modifications, and many restorations carried out by Kings and Popes modified their surfaces over time. However, the walls still appear well preserved today.

Giampiero Sanguigni, a friend of ours and co-founder of Milk Train, an awarded group of Rome-based practicing architects, historians, and urban planners, (designers, among others, of many pavilions in exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale) has recently taken a series of photographs from sections of the walls. “Each day, after lunch, I make a walk along the Aurelian walls. Each time I’m mesmerized by their crazy textures.”

Indeed, the photos show a huge variety of bricks and stone textures, – from areas of opus incertum to probable 19th-century recessed restorations sporting precise horizontal lines of red bricks, from fillings of tuff blocks to grid-like articulations of sparsed bricks and undefined blocks of stones.

The raw natures of the walls and the decontextualization given by the framing confer the pictures a surprisingly strong resemblance to 20th Century abstract art.

21 Mar 2019

What a Face!

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Atlantic puffin, Fratercula arctica.

HT: Karen L. Myers.

02 Mar 2019

Best Proposed Caption: “Honey, Can You Stop for Groceries on the Way Home?”

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The motorcycle is a very early Harley-Davidson.

21 Feb 2019

“Snow is General”

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08 Feb 2019

Underwater Jaguar

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photo: Herbert van der Beek.

A couple more images here.

HT: Karen L. Myers.

27 Jan 2019

Rocca Calascio

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The 12th century fortress of Rocca Calascio and the Church of Santa Maria della Pietà, Abruzzo, Italy.

24 Jan 2019

German Student Corporation Selfie, 1912

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02 Jan 2019

Faroe Islands House

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01 Jan 2019

Mount Etna Erupting Seen From Space

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