R.W.G. Hunt 1923-2018

by Dan Margulis on February 26, 2019

I recently learned of the loss of an outstanding contributor to the practical side of color science. Robert W.G. Hunt died in October at age 95.

He was a prolific writer, but he is best known for his massive text The Reproduction of Colour, now in its sixth edition. Most of it is quite geeky, with a lot of equations, tristimulus tricordering, and the like. It sounds like a great cure for insomnia, particularly considering that he was a director of research for Kodak in England. I don’t know much about its corporate attitudes across the Atlantic, but in this country Kodak was noted for its intransigent belief that all that was needed for perfect reproduction was accurate control of the color process.

Hunt was not like that, which may account for why he took early retirement and continued his research/writing as an independent. Yes, he was a great believer in process control, and in fact thought that color management was basically pretty easy, considering the advanced state of technology fifty years ago. However, he became puzzled when, due to natural limitations of presses etc., it was impossible to achieve color that was accurate to the photograph, yet people were willing to accept the reproduction anyway.

From that, it was a short step to the corollary: sometimes it was possible to achieve perfection, according to instruments, and yet human observers claimed it was not accurate. He summed it up: “To explain this apparent anomaly it has to be remembered that, although colours may be conveniently defined in terms of physical quantities such as spectral transmission and reflection curves, they are perceived as sensations in the mind. We must therefore consider the psychological as well as the physical side of the story.” This philosophy can be taken as the basis of the Picture Postcard Workflow.

He was the first (AFAIK) to say what we all know, that we are more likely to accept slightly inaccurate grass and other greenery than we are inaccurate fleshtones. And he added (although he was not the first one to say so; that was Ogden Rood) that a move toward green in a fleshtone is far more offensive than toward any other color.

He also put his finger on one of our biggest problems: the client who can’t explain his own reason for not liking a certain image—plus our own propensity to assume that things we think are technically wrong will therefore not seem satisfactory to the client. Hunt said it better than I just did: “The ultimate test of any colour reproduction is the opinion of the person who views it. But opinions differ, and, in cases where dissatisfaction is felt, the viewer often finds great difficulty in saying exactly why he does not like the sensations which he experiences when looking at the picture. Trained observers may feel more competent to name the faults in a reproduction, but training often makes an observer especially sensitive to certain faults which have been prevalent in his experience, while other faults, equally bad to a naïve (but less articulate) observer, he may overlook.”

Being a pioneer, being the first one to think about certain subjects, he got a few things wrong, sometimes understandably. He stated that it has been proven that a suntanned appearance is preferred in skintone reproduction, even when not found in the original subject. That’s overstated, but we have to remember that much of his practice had to do with fashion advertising, and that he lived in England fifty years ago. So, his experience of fleshtones wasn’t at all balanced: it was very skewed toward light-skinned young Caucasian women. And, if you’re dealing with a bunch of light-skinned, light-haired young women, he’s right, a suntanned appearance is preferred to the natural pinkness of their skin. But that theory breaks down with a more balanced population.

I have taken a few pot shots at him for this and other things, but he must be understood as a product of his times, In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man rules color management, provided that he exercises a little common sense. Robert Hunt did that.

In fact, whenever I spoke to a large audience, Hunt introduced me. While people were getting themselves seated, they would read the following on the auditorium screen. It’s a worthy thing to remember him by, because it is the whole case for color correction in a nutshell:

It is only on rather special occasions that the reproduction and the original are seen side by side: more usually the reproduction is seen at a different place or time, and the time interval may vary from a few hours to several weeks or even months or years. The human memory therefore plays an important part. It might be thought, then, that the process involved in appraising colours in a reproduction consists of making mental comparisons between the sensation produced in the mind by the reproduction, and a recollection from the memory of the colour sensation produced by the original object at the time when the picture was taken. It is, however, a fact that the average person generally feels competent to appraise the colours in pictures taken by people other than himself, of objects which he has never seen, at times when he was not present.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Peter

Hello Dan! Big fan of your writing. Is there a way to contact you directly by e-mail?

Dan Margulis

Peter,

I’ve replied offline.

bill bane

Dan,
May I send you an email offline as it does not exactly fit this set.
Thanks,
Bill Bane
bill.bane@gmail.com
bill.bane@att.net

Dan Margulis

Bill,

I’ve replied offline with my address.

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