To Photograph the Details of a Dark Horse in Low Light

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.”

Broomberg and Chanarin’s billboards bring Shirley out of history and into a sea of contemporary consumer imagery. The portraits are juxtaposed with a graphic play of tonal and colour scales, and overlaid with the label “normal.” The new images hijack the representational space of urban advertising to raise questions about the relationship between the social and the technical, and the possibility that politics is bound up with our material history. 

Recently, Broomberg and Chanarin were invited to “document” the African country Gabon. Before the trip, they collected Kodak film stock that expired between the 1950s–70s, film that Godard would have called racist. Using the expired film, they succeeded in producing just a single frame from the many colour rolls they exposed. This image will be on view at the Gallery TPW R&D project space, 1256 Dundas St W, May 11 – June 8.

Presented in partnership with Gallery TPW
Supported by Pattison Outdoor Advertising and Nikon Canada

Toronto Locations

Dundas St W and Ossington Ave, Northwest corner
Dundas St W and Rusholme Rd, North side
Lansdown Ave at Dundas St W, Northeast corner

Across Canada Locations

9 Ave SE at 13 St SE
4 images, 10 x 20 ft

North St at Alderney Dr
2 images, 10 x 20 ft

Van Horne Ave at St Laurent Blvd &
St Urbain St
3 images, 10 x 20 ft

Pacific Ave at 22nd St E & 23rd St E
4 images, 10 x 20 ft

Howe St at Drake St & Nelson St
3 images, 10 x 20 ft

Isabel St at William Ave
2 images, 10 x 20 ft
2 images, 12 x 16 ft