25 Years of Photoshop

Jennifer in Paradise.tif – the first photoshopped pictureBrothers Knoll sent over their original Je

Jennifer in Paradise. It’s a picture that’s become iconic in the history of digital imagery. It shows a topless woman with her back to us, sitting in the blue waters of Bora Bora and gazing towards the island of To’opua. But it’s not what the picture shows that makes it iconic. It’s what happened to the picture after it was taken. Jennifer just happened to be the girlfriend of Photoshop co-creator John Knoll. So, when he was demonstrating what Photoshop could do while pitching it to Adobe in 1988, this was the picture he had handy. As such, Jennifer in Paradise became the first picture in history to be Photoshopped. Adobe bought in. Two years later, in February, 1990, version 1.0 hit the shelves.

I was introduced to Photoshop a few years after this. I believe it was version 2.something. Up until that point, I, and the rest of the world, believed that the camera doesn’t lie. You could believe your eyes. But Photoshop would change all that. It would push us over the brink from an analog to a digital world. It would take reality and break into a million pixels, each of which could be manipulated into something that looked real, but wasn’t.

Of course, technology had got there before Photoshop. John worked at George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic. So did Jennifer. The vacation in Bora Bora came after the couple had just finished a marathon run to finish up Who Framed Roger Rabbit. But digital manipulation of images was the sole domain of highly trained technicians working on equipment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, using industrial strength software that was specifically written for the purpose. Before Photoshop, only a handful of people in the world could digitally alter an image.

That all changed when Version 1.0 of Photoshop was released. Digital manipulation became democratized. It, along with Aldus Pagemaker, Aldus Freehand and the Mac gave us all the power to publish. But for me, the power of Photoshop was always in a different league. To be able to manipulate photos, which up to that point were the hallmark of veracity, now that was a brand of sorcery that went far beyond the pedestrian shuttling of words back and forth on a screen. It was intoxicating and a little sacrilegious. Nobody cheered when you turned out an adequately typeset newsletter, but when you showed them a well-photoshopped image that magically messed around with reality, that got passed around. Pagemaker was a tool, but Photoshop made you an artist.

For me, Photoshop was the first program that made me aware of the power of digital media. I, like millions of other desktop publishers, had assembled a ragtag collection of tools that consisted mainly of pirated programs. But I actually paid for Photoshop. Why? Because each edition added features that opened a new Pandora’s box of possibility. When you cracked the cellophane, you were guaranteed at least of couple weeks of OMGs as you put the program through it’s paces. Photoshop made me fall in love with digital.

Today, it seems like digital has always been with us. Our world is a better-designed place than it was 25 years ago. And a quarter century may seem like forever in today’s terms, but that makes Photoshop just a few years older than my oldest daughter and it seems like she was just born yesterday.

The 90’s were a heady decade for me. I turned digital, never to turn back. I bought my first Mac, a little Mac SE 30 about the size of a home espresso machine. Soon, I would catch my first glimpse of the Internet. I created my first website. I tried Google for the first time. And by the end of the decade, I decided my fledgling agency would focus exclusively on the digital side of the industry. Jennifer in Paradise was a big part of that.

Later in the same day that John Knoll snapped that fateful picture, he proposed to Jennifer. It was the start of something magical, both for the Knolls and for the rest of the world. Thank you.

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