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‘Racist’ lighting manufacturers called out

Petapixel, the world’s most popular photo news aggregator, has published an article demanding photo lighting manufacturers be more inclusive of the ‘black community’, by renaming the ‘slave’ and ‘master’ modes on flash units.

Some folks may be, excuse the pun, triggered by Slave mode, which apparently reflects the ‘deep-seated racism in this industry.’

The topical article, written by light-complexioned US photographer Fiona Bear, has to little surprise gone completely viral, with hundreds of shares and comments equalling optimum clicks. Way more than any of Petapixel‘s articles gushing about the most exciting-yet-to-be-released camera ever, the Canon EOS R5, (the latest leaks suggest the camera will be launched in July!), or articles such as ‘Bigfoot Poses in Hilarious Real Estate Photos for $1M House‘.

Bear asks the reader: ‘Can you imagine being on set with a black human and the photographer yells to the assistant “hey can you put it on slave mode”. Or being a black photographer and seeing this on your own pack or flash?’

A light unit’s ‘slave’ mode makes it respond when a ‘master’ light fires. Apparently some photographers already feel uncomfortable using these terms and have replaced them with receiver and transmitter, and Bear suggests lighting manufacturers get with the times and follow suit.

Top comments on Petapixel’s Facebook post for the article shows support for the campaign.

Changing names wouldn’t require much effort by lighting manufacturers, and it’s hard to imagine much resistance from customers. It may even better reflect the representation of the function, while simultaneously gaining corporate brownie points for socially progressive-ness. For instance Profoto’s CEO, Anders Hedebark, could pen an open letter via a PR agency titled: ‘You asked, Profoto listened. Moving forward we are cutting ties with our racist past, for a more inclusive tomorrow.‘ Something like that, with requisite platitudes, resulting in free positive publicity and nods of approval from the photo media.

Bear’s article, It’s Time to End the Terms ‘Slave’ and ‘Master’ in Photography, finishes on this note:
‘Leading lighting and photo gear companies are still using these terms slave and master and putting them on gear. Canon, Nikon, Profoto, Elinchrom, Broncolor… we are all looking at you.
This paints a light on how our industry was made. And how we still have so far to go. We have to call out these companies and change this. We have to hold them accountable and ourselves. When we capture photos with their products and not say something, we are supporting the deep-seated racism in this industry.
Time to call these companies out. Time to change the industry and make way for our black community.’

Canon already eliminated the terms Slave and Master in 2018, with the 470EX-AI Speedlite manual replacing them with ‘Sender’ and ‘Receiver’ (credit to DPReview forum users for highlighting this). The other companies aren’t based in the US, where slavery remains a tender issue, or other parts of the world where it still exists today. Photography lighting companies are mostly based in the tiny neutral country of Switzerland, or Japan and China, where it’s possible such terminology isn’t flagged as problematic. Well, not yet, anyway.

While Bear’s campaign has garnered support, some feel it’s an absurd cause which won’t have a real-world effect on the photo industry’s treatment of African Americans descending from slaves. The whole ‘if we use a Profoto products and don’t complain, we’re complicit in outright industry racism’ may be drawing a long bow.

But most importantly for Petapixel, it’s all about the clicks.

Tony Northrup, a popular YouTube photography vlogger, weighs in by reminding everyone there have been other places with ‘black’ slaves, specifically Australia.

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