The bias built into light meters, film, and cameras.
Kodak did finally modify its film emulsion stocks in the 1970s and ’80s — but only after complaints from companies trying to advertise chocolate and wood furniture. The resulting Gold Max film stock was created. According to Roth, a Kodak executive described the film as being able to “photograph the details of the dark horse in low light.”
Kodak never encountered a groundswell of complaints from African-Americans about their products. Many of us simply assumed the deficiencies of film emulsion performance reflected our inadequacies as photographers. Perhaps we didn’t understand the principles of photography. It is science, after all.
Through experience we adapted to film technology — analog and digital —that hadn’t adapted to us. We circumvented the inherent flaws of film emulsion by ensuring that our subjects were well placed in light; invested more in costly lenses that permitted a wider variety of aperture ranges so we could imbue our work with all the light we could; we purchased professional-grade films at faster speeds, or specialty films with emulsions designed for shooting conditions strictly indoor under fluorescent or tungsten light. We accepted poor advice from white photo instructors to add Vaseline to teeth and skin or apply photosensitive makeup that barely matched our skin’s undertones.