Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin’s To Photograph the Details of a Dark Horse in Low Light presents a national billboard campaign that depicts glamorous Caucasian women in high-contrast dress posed in front of neutral grey backgrounds. Collectively known as “Shirleys,” the portraits are culled from an archive of Kodak “norm reference cards,” historically used to calibrate skin tone in a photograph. French director Jean-Luc Godard made Kodak’s apparent predilection for white skin famous by refusing to use Kodak film on assignment in Mozambique in 1975. Kodak film, he insisted, was “racist.” Responding primarily to the confectionary and furniture industries’ complaints that they could not properly render dark chocolate or dark wood, Kodak chemists developed an emulsion that more accurately depicted darker colours: Gold Max, the first popular consumer film to address this problem, was initially described by Kodak as able “to photograph the details of a dark horse in low light.”
This guest post by Samantha Detwiler is brought to you by CONTACT festival. For the complete schedule of events and exhibition, visit www.scotiabankcontactphoto.com.