While working as a photographer in New York, Florian Koenigsberger had personal experience with this issue. “I remember getting this prompt on my phone to proactively revisit memories with my mother. I opened this thing… and it just showed me so many things that had nothing to do with my mother. Some of them were accurate. She’s a dark-skinned, Black Jamaican woman.
Some of the images accurately showed her, but it also showed me everything from men I went to high school with, to pictures of different women with various haircuts and ages. And I remember feeling very clearly at that point: ‘Wow! These tools are not designed to see us’.”
Ways of seeing
Now the lead on Google’s Image Equity Initiative, Koenigsberger is drawing on his own experiences – and those of millions of others – to help find tech solutions that will more accurately depict people of colour.
Over the last few years, he and Google’s product teams have worked with a diverse group of photographers, cinematographers, and film directors, listening to their pain points around photographing people with darker skin tones. These image makers shared their experiences about camera’s inability to render important nuances of skin – like inaccurately rendering darker skin tones as unnaturally warm or cool, or washed out and faded
“This is where I think it starts to feel like magic,” he says. “These image makers share their challenges and ideas, and our product teams come back with technical solutions.”
“What they came back with would form the basis of the Real Tone technology in Google’s Pixel 6 camera, which is specifically designed to more accurately depict darker skin tones.”
The tech is not the point
While Koenigsberger is excited and proud of the inroads made by the Pixel 6, he argues that “the tech is not the point”. It’s a strange thing to hear from a technology company, so he explains.
“When the technology works well, it’s supposed to disappear. We want to get to a place where people don’t have to think about whether the camera is holding them back in some way. Of course, we want to make sure that people are aware of these improvements, but we also dream of a day when someone doesn’t have to wonder whether their camera will see them as they are.”
Historically, camera technology has overlooked and excluded people with darker skin tones. Today’s cameras carry that same bias. Google Pixel and Nine’s portfolio of brands are partnering to improve diversity within Australian imagery by using Real Tone on Pixel 6 to photograph image galleries of darker skin tones for use across the Nine Network and Getty’s Refinery29 We Are Many collection.