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.