“Girls on Film” Is a Look at the Unknown Faces of Film History
The women in Julie Buck’s photo series Girls on Film might look like superstars, but they’re not. Affectionately nicknamed “China girls” by the film industry (although we prefer the less politically incorrect nickname “Kodak girls”), these were women who posed on color-timing control strips. Although they appeared in hundreds of films, the women were never meant to be seen by anyone other than the projectionist, appearing for a frame or two as part of the film’s countdown leaders. From the 1920s to the early ’90s, color-timing was a process films underwent to maintain consistent color balance. The practice stopped once digitalization came on the scene, and the anonymous women, who ranged from studio workers to models, became a relic of film history.
Buck, with help from archivist Karin Segal, spent a year and a half restoring all the lost color strip images, finally giving the women their time in the spotlight. Who are the women on the color strips? Did any of them have aspirations to be movie stars? Buck’s series doesn’t answer those questions, but it opens the door to an interesting part of cinema history most had no idea existed.