The Photoshop Archives

Photograph/Adobe TV Photoshop cofounder, John Knoll, is seen to the extreme left in this photo that was shot around the time that he started working on it.

Photograph/Adobe TV
Photoshop co-founder, John Knoll, is seen to the extreme left in this photo that was shot around the time that he started working on it.

Two geeky brothers, fond of art, created, what is today, the world’s most influential image processing software. Raj Lalwani looks back.

Ever heard of a software called Display? ImagePro? PhotoLab? Barneyscan XP? Or well, Imaginator? Photoshop, as we know it today, went through a series of identity crises before it finally settled on its current name. After all, every invention goes through a series of fortunate coincidences that make it what it is.

“Photoshop, I am Your Father!”
Did you know this… without the original Star Wars movies, there would have been no Photoshop? John Knoll was working for Industrial Light and Magic, the special effects division for Lucasfilm—a company that was founded for the Star Wars movies. As a part of his job, John used some complex image processing software, but they could only be operated on the Pixar, a specialised and highly unaffordable computer at his company. Around the same time, John’s brother, Thomas, was doing a PhD on image processing, and encountered a problem. The Apple Mac Plus at their house, could not display grayscale images. Thomas started hacking a code to solve the issue.

That his brother was creating something for the Mac Plus (an affordable, popular computer then) excited John. So, he and Thomas went through a series of what-ifs… John would imagine different possibilities, and Thomas would figure out a solution. Of course, most of these possibilities were rather tame. Did you know that Photoshop was first pitched to the company Super Mac as, believe it or not, a specialised program for converting image file formats?

Championing the Democracy of the Image
It is important that remember that image manipulation in the darkroom, is as old as photography itself. Even digital processing started a decade before Photoshop, but this was the first software that was easy and affordable enough for the common man to use. The kind of things you could do on your Mac at home earlier required equipment worth millions of dollars.Several organisations—both computer companies and photographic ones, balked at the idea. Why would anyone want an image processing software, they wondered. Maybe, just maybe, they were wrong.

The David Hockney Episode
Adobe expressed interest in the software, and after one unsuccessful dealing, the second one bore fruit. The year was 1990. Art Director at Adobe, Russel Brown, was the one who was most excited, and he felt that this could be the first software that was handled, not by scientists and specialists, but photographers and artists. So in walked the legendary David Hockney, who Brown invited to see what the fuss was about. With two dogs in tow and smoking all the time, the artist and photocollagist went about seeing if he could use Photoshop to make the collages that he used to physically paste. In Brown’s words, Hockney was like “a child in a candy shop.”

Today, the first premise when one views an image is doubt. Is this real? Or is it photoshopped? Interestingly, the power, responsibilities and possible misuse were highlighted just two months after the first version came out—a TV news feature showcased the various unethical possibilities of the software. Noted photography opinionmaker, Fred Ritchin wrote a book called In Our Own Image on the dangers of digital, and appeared on the same program, saying, “This is against what photography has been.”

Did Photoshop Actually Keep Apple Alive?
On the positive side, Photoshop has spun off tons of industries, software and apps. Today, Photoshop is not considered an easy software—only because its success as a mass product inspired others to find simpler, more fun ways to edit photos. Significantly enough, Thomas Knoll once said that Apple had a lot to thank Photoshop for, as the software was Mac-only for the first few years. “Before Steve Jobs came back, in their dark period,” says Knoll, “I’ve often thought that it’s quite possible that without Photoshop being an exclusive Macintosh product when it came out, Apple might not have survived.”

Spot the Differences… Manipulation Magic Before Photoshop Arrived

Abraham Lincoln’s Face on John Calhoun’s body (1860)

This is a picture of Lincoln that almost became ‘iconic’… until people realised that Lincoln is not even in the actual picture. It is a composite of his head on a majetic pose struck by John Calhoun, a Senator and Vice President. It is one of the first ever instances of photo fakery, just a few decades after photography began.

Stalin Bumping Off His Enemies… Photographically (1930)

The most instances of photo altering actually came from commuinist Russia. Unwanted people and those who fell out of favour, were not only killed, but also removed from photographs. The philosophy behind manipulating the photo was to ‘alter the past’. Lenin did the same, as did Joseph Stalin, seen in this photo.

Benito Mussolini in a Quest to Look More Heroic (1942)

In another instance of photomanipulation being used for political propoganda, Benito Mussolini got a horse handler airbrushed fom this famous photograph of his. A simple comparison of the two frames tells us about how each visual would have been perceived, and how the fake photo would have justified Mussolini’s aura.

Nat Geo Shrunk the Pyramids! (1982)

Photograph/Gordon Gahan, National Geographic Stock

Photograph/Gordon Gahan, National Geographic Stock

The magazine made the pyramids narrower to fit them onto the Feb 1982 cover! The manipulation would have never come to light, had the photographer, Gordon Gahan, not raised a hue and cry. Ironically, Gahan had also staged the photo. He had missed the shot and requested the camel riders to cross the path again.

This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Better Photography.

Tags: Raj Lalwani, adobe photoshop, history, david hockney, Photo Manipulation, John Knoll, Thomas Knoll