Photoshop is 20 (though looks younger)

To mark the 20th anniversary of the launch of Photoshop, Adobe brought together the four original developers to talk about how the package was created and its subsequent impact on image making

To mark the 20th anniversary of the launch of Photoshop, Adobe brought together the four original developers to talk about how the package was created and its subsequent impact on image making…

In 1990 when John Knoll, Thomas Knoll, Russell Brown and Steve Guttman launched Photoshop 1.0, a few people raised questions about a creative tool that could so easily manipulate photography. While the tone of Adobe’s anniversary film has an understandably celebratory, ocassionally deifying air, it actually opens with footage from a concerned US TV consumer show from February of the launch year.

“These days the picture that the camera takes may not be the picture we see in newspapers and magazines”, proffers the host, who goes on to cite examples of where image manipulation has made it hard to tell “what’s real and what’s not”.

We see Rosanna Arquette sporting a Playboy logo that she was otherwise oblivious to and the TV Guide cover where the designers failed to realise why transferring Oprah Winfrey’s head to a 1979 shot of actress Ann Margaret was not a good, and in no way a seamless, idea.

Author Fred Ritchin on a US TV show that debuted Photoshop 1.0: “My concern is that if the media takes to doing what Russell is demonstrating now, that people, the public will begin to disbelieve photographs generally and it won’t be as effective and as powerful a document of social communication as it has been for the last 150 years.”

In the clip from the TV show, Adobe’s Russell Brown goes on to demonstrate what the nascent software program can do and with a certain charming naivety, secretes a picture of himself in between Ronald and Nancy Reagan onscreen. While the protestations of author Fred Ritchin are aired – and certainly remain relevant – it’s Adobe who came out of this on top, of course, with an estimated 10 million people now currently using Photoshop worldwide.

To a lot of people working in photography, design and publishing, Photoshop was indeed a revolutionary creative tool. To many others (and to Adobe’s annoyance) the word “Photoshopped” became synonymous with the grim side of image editing; the dark place where celebrities unwittingly sported extra limbs, where the line between the real and the surreal became indistinguishable, even to certain professional users of the software. The atrocities uploaded to PhotoshopDisasters need no introduction.

The idea for Photoshop, according to founder Thomas Knoll, came out of his “hating writing my PhD thesis” and the subsequent time he spent programming code to display greyscale images on a black and white display. The first version of the application was initially trialled under the name Display in 1987, was then renamed ImagePro (which they found was already taken), with Adobe CEO, John Warnock, apparently suggesting the hefty Imaginator at one stage. Photoshop was eventually put forward by someone the team were demoing the software to. Adobe then predicted that they would shift 500 copies on floppy disk.

Twenty years and 10 million sales later, the application still benefits from added functionality, with Adobe set to launch their CS5 version in April this year. ‘Layers’, introduced in Photoshop 3.0, for example, gave designers the ability to create more complex compositions, while the ‘healing brush’, a feature introduced in version 7.0, allowed users to retouch images by removing blemishes and wrinkles, yet preserve the lighting and texture. Indeed, Photoshop tools like ‘crop’, ‘blur’ and ‘dodge and burn’ have now become part of the contemporary creative vernacular.

The four founders are doing the rounds at the moment, celebrating the anniversary of their baby, and also appear in a film on the NBC Bay Area website. It’s in this film that Thomas Knoll suggests that a certain Cupertino-based computer company perhaps owes more to Photoshop than is routinely acknowledged.

“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.”

A big claim, no doubt, but how important has Photoshop been for you? Could you survive without it?


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