Artist Angelica Dass is building a database of skin hues.

Dass started Humanae in April 2012.

Her first subjects were some of her Brazilian family members.

She has since shot in Madrid, Barcelona, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Paris, Chicago, and Winterthur, Delaware.

For each portrait, Dass samples a small pixel from the subject’s skin--usually from the well-lit cheek area.

She then matches that sample to a Pantone hue, which is used as the backdrop.

Individually, the portraits in Humanae are pretty monochromatic.

Collectively, they create a gorgeous index of pink, brown, honey, and taupe (the list goes on)--hues that correspond to all possible skin pigmentations.

There are also surprises throughout--like discovering that someone who would normally pass as "white" actually has a deep pink skin tone.

Or, likewise, someone who is "black" more accurately has a rosy, tan shade of skin.

“Humanae is a pursuit for highlighting our true color, rather than the untrue red, yellow, black, and white,” Dass says.

Dass is the “granddaughter of a ‘black’ and ‘native’ Brazilian and the daughter of a ‘black’ father adopted by a ‘white’ family.”

Diversity is important to Bass, and not just for skin tone.

She’s photographed at art fairs and galleries.

But she's also expanded to favelas, NGO offices, the headquarters of UNESCO, and even cooperatives that work with the homeless.

Uruguay and Madrid are on the docket for spring.

As she captures more swaths of people, her work becomes only more fascinating.

Certain optical illusions, like how hair color influences our perception of skin color, start to become more evident.

Makeup is another big influence in how we perceive skin tones--like the disorienting effect of the purple eye shadow seen here.

And of course, it's easy to forget what skin looks like before years of sun exposure.

Every subject is a volunteer.

Dass hopes to soon photograph in Africa and Asia.

“Humanae is a work in progress, is infinite and unfinished,” she says.

Artist Wants To Map Every Single Human Skin Tone On Earth

Photographer Angelica Dass has matched 2,000 human faces with their corresponding Pantone hue.

Perhaps, in the near future, besides wearing mobile devices on our faces and sporting unisex high-waisted pants, we’ll cease to refer to people as black or white, or some variant in between. Instead, we’ll use their corresponding Pantone color to describe the tone of their skin.

If this happens, we’ll have to thank artist Angelica Dass for building the first database of skin hues. Dass started her project, Humanae, in April 2012, by photographing some of her Brazilian family members. Dass sampled a small pixel from the subject’s skin--usually from the well-lit cheek area--and then matched it to a Pantone hue, which is used as the backdrop. She does this with all her photographs for Humanae, which now number around 2,000. Collectively, they create a gorgeous index of pink, brown, honey, and taupe (the list goes on)--hues that correspond to all possible skin pigmentations.

“Humanae is a pursuit for highlighting our true color, rather than the untrue red, yellow, black, and white,” says Dass, who is the “granddaughter of a ‘black’ and ‘native’ Brazilian and the daughter of a ‘black’ father adopted by a ‘white’ family.”

Each individual portrait is pretty monochromatic. But when all the Humanae images are viewed together, as they are on Dass’s Tumblr, it’s hard to escape the awe of seeing exactly just how nuanced skin tone can be. Some faces that would typically pass as “white,” are practically hot pink. Two people who look like they might be siblings could actually have opposite base tones of yellow and red.

Diversity is important to Bass, and not just for skin tone. She’s photographed at art fairs and galleries, but then expanded to favelas, NGO offices, the headquarters of UNESCO, and even cooperatives that work with the homeless. She has shot in Madrid, Barcelona, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Paris, Chicago, and Winterthur, Delaware. Uruguay and Madrid are on the docket for spring. Every subject is a volunteer, and Dass plans to find more, hopefully soon in Africa and Asia: “Humanae is a work in progress, is infinite and unfinished,” she says.

See more here.

Add New Comment

4 Comments

  • Margaret, you said, "Dass sampled a small pixel from the subject’s skin". What do you mean by a "small pixel"? Also, if you zoom in to a photo of someone's skin in an image editing program you will see many different colors and variations. How does she choose the base color for each person's skin tone, e.g. is it based on a mathematical average color of the cheek area she has selected? Or has she selected a color for each person based on her own intuition?

  • "Two people who look like they might be siblings could actually have opposite base tones of yellow and red."

    This makes it sound like siblings can't have opposite base tones. I'm pretty convinced it's perfectly possible - unless, of course, my sister and I are somehow an exception (doubtful).

  • Red and yellow, as the article author notes, are the base tones for everyone, and black and white contribute to the value of those tones. Anyone who works with color knows that brown and tan are really just extra values of orange, which is turn is red plus yellow. Just as north, south, east, and west are the axes of the earth, so red, yellow, black, and white form the axes of human pigmentation.

    I'm not saying that we could or should divide people along those axes. Quite the opposite really. "Red and yellow, black and white" isn't a myth to be dispelled, it's a fact to be understood.