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Skin Deep: Angelica Dass’s Human Pantone Photographs

Images from Angelica Dass’s Humanae series. (all images from humanae.tumblr.com and used with the artist’s permission)

Skin color was always an issue for me growing up, and I would suspect the same is true for you. Whether you live in a dense city of 15 million or a sleepy town of 10,000, your coloring is an all too-easy “cover” by which one’s “book” is judged.

I grew up in the Philippines, a country obsessed with skin whitening. Over 40% of skin-related product sales in the country come from skin whitening products. That includes foaming cleanser, moisture mask, freshener, essence serum, day moisturizer, night cream and dark-spot serum. Add “special whitening ingredient” to your product and you’re virtually guaranteed healthy sales.

This unhealthy fascination with light skin isn’t just in the Philippines, India made worldwide headlines a few months ago with a commercial that sold skin whitening that lightens your nether regions. The same is true of Africa, whose women continually endanger themselves by using too strong a whitening agent.

On the other hand, for some, darker is better. How often do we see sun worshippers sprawled on the recliners, or perhaps a slightly orange-tinged beachgoer strutting along the seaside?

Humanity’s almost laughable fascination with lighter or darker skins is scrutinized under the camera’s lens by Brazilian photographer Angelica Dass, who has taken over 150 photographs of men and women and matched them — using a 11×11 pixel swatch from their faces — with their corresponding Pantone color. The results are posted it on the Humanae tumblelog for all to see.

“The inspiration for this project comes from my family roots, I am the granddaughter of a ‘black’ and a ‘native’ Brazilian and daughter of a ‘black’ father adopted by a ‘white’ family. So, I am a mixture of diverse pigments,” says Dass over email.

Dass found her subjects in two art festivals: the Rojo Nova in Barcelona and De las Artes in Madrid. Though none of her subjects were models, their similar straightforward gaze and manner easily draws viewers in. Pretty soon, I find myself asking: “Who are they? What are their lives like? How different could their lives be from mine?”

After a few minutes of observation my eyes start to pick out the subtle colors underlying each photograph. Pantone 124-6 C is a lovely shade of pink usually reserved for newborn babies. Pantone 62-8 C’s skin reminds me of the generous amount of milk I like mixed with coffee. Despite being told not to smile, it seems Pantone 78-6 C just can’t help the kind expression on his face.

What at first seems like a simple project to categorize, slice and dice, is Dass’s clever subversion of the usual black-white dichotomy. The Humanae Project shows visitors that white isn’t “white” and black isn’t “black,” they’re all just tricks of the eye.

“Some people who you usually tend to think as ‘darker’ in terms of facial features (Latin-American or northern African), are in fact ‘lighter’ than other ones that people tend to identify as ‘white,” writes Dass.

Dass’s website shows incredible breadth of color but notably dips into a small subset of the world. All her photographs were taken in Spain. Encouraged by the overwhelming response to her initial photos, Dass is now looking to expand her inventory project to other countries.

“All equipment, lighting, background and all I have needed to make these photos are investments that I made by my own efforts, and they were basic necessities to carry out the project. I am seeking for funds to take pictures outside Madrid or Spain. In a global scale it would be impossible for me without help,” she says.

Should Dass find her way around the world and in the process exposing the full spectrum of humanity, she may yet convince us Filipinos, Indians, Africans and Americans to reconsider what we believe to be true.

Angelica Dass can be reached on her website, where you can view more of her Humanae series.

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