The Fade-Out of Shirley, a Once-Ultimate Norm: Colour Balance, Image Technologies, and Cognitive Equity

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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 several colour adjustment processes in the visual representation industries and identifies some prototypical changes in the field. It is to be read as a historical background to the development of and rationale for the creation and insertion of flesh-tone, colour-balance computer chips within imaging technologies. It introduces the 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 all image technologies, products, and emergent practices in the visual industries.

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Thesis (Ph. D.)--Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, 1995. Vita. Includes bibliographical references (leaves 496-531). July 1998, UMI, dd. Microfilm.
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  • N I Painter