“UnderExposed” highlights importance of properly photographing dark-skinned subjects

Photos from “Underexposed”, a student art exhibit created by Laura Searles (junior), Jack Schofield (junior), and Aparicio Janeth (junior), at Occidental College's Bengal Room in Los Angeles, on Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. Nora Fujita-Yuhas/Occidental Weekly

Juniors Laura Searles, Janeth Aparicio and Jack Schofield* hosted an art show and makeup workshop entitled “UnderExposed” in the Bengal Room Friday, Nov. 17. The event was part of the Oxy Arts Initiate! Program, which Oxy Arts Director Deena Selenow created last spring. Searles, Aparicio and Schofield took the portrait photographs and four moving stills on display at the event, while Xiomara Rodriguez (sophomore) helped with makeup styling. About 15 people, mostly students, attended the art show and several stayed for the workshop. According to a written statement by the artists that they displayed at the event, the exhibit was meant to highlight proper lighting and makeup techniques for photographers shooting dark-skinned subjects.

“We kind of noticed that in photography and film, a lot of the techniques used cater to white features, white skin tones, white people,” Searles said. “We wanted to explore how to highlight those features that are underrepresented.”

Aparicio said that the artists highlighted these underrepresented features and skin tones through makeup, lighting and the use of a polarizer lens filter. The show was meant not only to demonstrate the students’ understanding of photographing dark-skinned subjects but also to share their techniques with others.

During the workshop portion of the event, Aparicio applied Searles’ makeup with products from Rihanna’s makeup line, Fenty Beauty, to demonstrate how she applied makeup on the models in the displayed photos. Aparicio showed the audience how to apply foundation, use contour to cast shadows and highlight facial features, and apply highlighter to reflect light off the face. She also painted Searles’ eyebrows and eyelashes with mascara.

Students observe “Underexposed”, a student art exhibit created by Laura Searles (junior), Jack Schofield (junior), and Aparicio Janeth (junior), at Occidental College’s Bengal Room in Los Angeles, on Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. Nora Fujita-Yuhas/Occidental Weekly

Fenty Beauty includes makeup for a wide range of skin tones and was instrumental in raising awareness about the limited makeup shades that are available for people of color, according to Searles. Searles and Aparicio said Fenty Beauty’s success led other makeup lines to increase online promotion of darker shades. Searles said that it is imperative for photographers and videographers to recognize that the lighting and makeup techniques that work for light-skinned subjects will not always work for dark-skinned subjects.

“We tried to utilize some of the new makeup tools that are available, now that people are starting to realize how many shades of skin there are,” Searles said. “Which should be a given.”

Searles and Aparicio said that the film “Moonlight” and the television series “Insecure,” which feature lighting and makeup tailored for their dark-skinned actors, inspired them. While “Moonlight” features color filters that tint whole shots, Searles and Aparicio said they tried to focus on more natural lighting, along with simple makeup, to achieve an understated look. They said it was important not to rely on color filters when shooting dark-skinned subjects.

Aparicio said that although major films and television shows have catalyzed the conversation around lighting for dark-skinned subjects in recent years, she hopes that more amateur cinematographers and photographers will adopt their techniques.

“We’re trying to make it more accessible,” Aparicio said. “It’s not only these really big productions that can do service to darker skin tones. You could do it in a much lower budget range.”

Selenow said she admired how cooperatively Aparicio, Searles and Schofield worked. According to Selenow, the students made all decisions regarding the project in complete agreement and made sure to keep each other informed.

“It’s all a conversation,” Selenow said.

According to Selenow, she started the Initiate! Program to provide students with an opportunity to engage in a self-driven, ungraded creative project. Oxy Arts provides the funding for students to craft their Initiate! projects. The only requirement to receive Initiate! support is that at least two students work in two or more artistic mediums.

“My goal is to create a space where you can take big risks and whatever happens, happens,” Selenow said.

The Initiate! Program sponsors two events per semester and provides each with a $750 stipend for materials, collaborators, gas money, compensation for the students and other costs, according to Selenow. “UnderExposed” is the second Initiate! event of the semester, following “Thahu,” a painting, sculpture and video exhibition by Waruguru Waithira (junior) and Taylor Fuller (junior).

*Jack Schofield is a photographer for The Occidental Weekly.