Edmonton model compiles list of photographers who can shoot diverse skin tones and bodies

When Suvi Sharma and her friends first started modelling, they took to Instagram to look for photographers.

They quickly realized many weren’t looking for models like them. They were shorter than five-feet-10, not size zero and most of them definitely not white.

“It really upset me because my friends, they’re so beautiful and they’re so talented, they are so good at posing, but there’s no representation for them,” said Sharma, an Edmonton model.

“I was sick and tired of that.”

Sharma put a call out on her Instagram account, The Indian Princess, on Sept. 6,  looking for the names of photographers who know how to shoot and edit diverse skin tones and bodies.

She has since posted a list of 26 photographers to her Instagram account as a resource for new and upcoming models. She also has added a list of Edmonton photographers to her website.

One of the photographers on the list, Alexandra Marcu, of Marcu Fotography, said photographing people of certain skin tones or body types requires experience that many photographers choose not to have. 

“That’s what we are supposed to know,” she said. “As a photographer, we should know how to have the lighting for Black skin.”

She said when she first started photography seven years ago it took her some time to get lighting and edits for a range of skin tones right. 

“But if your whole photography life, you’ve only learned one way and now all of a sudden you get a Black model, you’re going to be like a beginner photographer,” she said. 

Alexandra Marcu is on Suvi Sharma’s list of 26 Edmonton photographers. (Triston Ifill )

In July, famed photographer Annie Leibovitz received backlash online for making American gymnast Simone Biles look washed out and muted in her photos for the August cover of Vogue.

“How a person can work as a professional photographer for decades and still be this bad at lighting and photographing dark skin is baffling to me,” one Twitter user tweeted. 

Edmonton photographer Ryan Parker explained that photographers like Leibovitz often work with a specific type of lighting, style and colour gradient. But it doesn’t work on every skin tone.  

However, because photographers want to stick to their style, they decide to only take photos of people that compliment their style of photography, rather than changing the style to compliment their subject. 

“When your style becomes so specific that it doesn’t work within the wider range of humans that inhabit this planet, it can be problematic,” Parker said. 

Shirley Cards 

In the 1940s and ’50s, Kodak used a photograph of a white woman named Shirley as a reference card for skin-colour balance in still photography. The reference cards were called Shirley Cards. 

All photos were calibrated for colour against these reference cards, so if Shirley looked good, the photo was good.

Although digital photography has led to some improvements, racial bias still exists in artificial intelligence technologies. On Saturday, a Twitter user experimented with photos of Senator Mitch McConnell and former U.S President Barack Obama to see which photo the algorithm would pick up. 

Both photos of McConnell were picked up by the algorithm.

Marcu, meanwhile, said Black models have come to her after being asked by other photographers to get rid of their Afro or box braids. 

“That to me was super sad, because when I see a model with an Afro, I wouldn’t ask them to do anything with that hair,” she said.

“When they’re asking for that, I feel like you’re taking away from the person.”

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