How the World’s First Photoshopped Image Came to Be

Photoshopped images are now so much a part of our lives that it’s hard to imagine a time without them. But of course, there was. Back in 1987, John Knoll, who would become the co-creator of Adobe Photoshop (along with his brother Thomas), was tinkering with a new piece of hardware—the Pixar Image Computer—when he catapulted a future trend.

Knoll used a picture of Jennifer, his then-girlfriend (and future wife), on vacation on the beach, staring out into the distance, to demonstrate how an image could be digitally altered. In demos, he would double up the image of her or place an extra island in the distance. The picture, which was initially taken just before Knoll proposed, would come to be known as “Jennifer in Paradise,” and would gain serious recognition as the first Photoshopped image on record.

“I thought it was amazing,” Knoll said in a recreation of the demo he did of his nascent image manipulation software. “The fact that you could take an image from film, scan it in and turn it into digits and then manipulate those numbers and put it back out on to a piece of film. It meant that there was literally no limit to what you could do to it in the middle.”

This week, the original image is getting some renewed attention thanks to Dutch artist Constant Dullaart, who reproduced the still out of screenshots for his new London show. “Given its cultural significance,” Dullaart told The Guardian, “just from an anthropological point of view I thought it would be interesting to examine what values the image contains. The fact that it’s a white lady, topless, anonymous, facing away from the camera. And that it was his wife. He offers her, objectifying her, in his creation for the reproduction of reality.”

Whether it’s 1987 or 2014, manipulating images comes with a lot of cultural baggage. It’s not a new concept, but it’s one that’s continually enforced by the fashion industrial complex—the women in magazines regularly have their images digitally enhanced without comment, and presented as if those taut limbs and flawless complexions are the result of nature, not clever pixel changes.

Knoll probably couldn’t have predicted the stronghold Photoshop would have over the way we see people, working on a photo of his girlfriend on the beach back in 1987. He couldn’t have foreseen the campaigns to allow un-retouched photos run in magazines, and the bad Photoshop jobs that whittle a model’s anatomy to inexplicable proportions. But here we are.

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