Are you Shirley? All technical decisions are political

Roth, L 2009, ‘Looking at Shirley, the Ultimate Norm: Colour Balance, Image Technologies, and Cognitive Equity’, CJC, Vol.34, No.1.

  • Abstract: Until recently, due to a light-skin bias embedded in colour film stock emulsions and digital camera design, the rendering of non-Caucasian skin tones was highly deficient and required the development of compensatory practices and technology improvements to redress its shortcomings. Using the emblematic “Shirley” norm reference card as a central metaphor reflecting the changing state of race relations/aesthetics, this essay analytically traces the colour adjustment processes in the industries of visual representation and identifies some prototypical changes in the field. The author contextualizes the history of these changes using three theoretical categories: the ‘technological unconscious’ (Vaccari, 1981), ‘dysconsciousness’ (King, 2001), and an original concept of ‘cognitive equity,’ which is proposed as an intelligent strategy for creating and promoting equity by inscribing a wider dynamic range of skin tones into image technologies, products, and emergent practices in the visual industries.