My Journey of Exploration during a Period of Revolutionary
Changes in the Arts and Sciences of Photography and Imaging.
The technologies that enabled digital imaging as we now know it today, began to fall into place in the mid-1980's. The first CCD (charge coupled device) had been invented around 1970 and now CCD sensor technology was becoming inexpensive enough for consumer applications like camcorders.
In 1975, Steve Sasson of Eastman Kodak built and demonstrated the first digital camera, A year later, Bryce Bayer (also of Kodak), invented the RGBG color filter array. These two technologies would be key to the future of digital photography. Initially, their use was restricted to government, scientific and forensic imaging applications. Like many new technologies, because of the high cost to produce them, those markets are where most start out. Initial yields were low from the Kodak silicon lab, producing very few high quality CCD chips, so they were very expensive. Once threre was enough demand and it was turned into a production run unit, only then would the cost drop enough to be affordable to consumers.
Scanning and image editing were already being done by large pre-press systems. The development of the personal computer would finally provide the foundation that would enable those digital imaging tools to reach a wider audience.
Desktop computers were becoming more and more common on desks in many corporate workplaces. First as spreadsheet and word processing tools, and later as drafting, drawing and paint software evolved, they began to be used in a variety of design and engineering visualization applications.
In 1981 Sony had demonstrated the first electronic still video camera, called the Mavica, which used a CCD color array and wrote still images using analog video recording technology to a 2.5" Still Video Floppy Disk. You could store 25 full frame video images or 50 field (half resolution) images on one disc. The image quality of these units was extremely poor however, suffering from the limitations of the NTSC composite video signal and the subsequent analog storage (same technology as VCR recording). Images were blurry, full of color noise, artifacts and quality degraded each time it was copied. Kodak and many other consumer electronic companies scrambled to put together development teams to exploit this new technology even though none of them really knew who might actually buy a camera for really low quality picture taking. (Photojournalists it would later be discovered, could live with the poorer quality if they could be the first to publish images of an important event.)
First VGA and then 8-bit color display technology began to displace the predominantly monochrome displays of the early personal computer. The first twenty-four (24) bit color displays made their appearance around 1985 with the ATT Targa video cards for IBM PC's. The Targa card was one of the first color video digitizers for the computer, allowing one to capture video camera images directly into the Targa board's memory buffer without the loss of quality inflicted by first recording it on an analog medium like videotape. The included software then allowed you to do fantastic things with this incredibly clear and vibrant image that you'd captured with the press of a key or a software button on the display using a mouse pointer.
Kodak's brand new Consumer Electronics Division was having trouble selling the Kodak labeled, Japanese made 8mm video camcorders. For that reason Kodak made a decision to exit the 8mm business in 1986. (I wonder how Sony and others managed to sell so many 8mm camcorders in the years since.) Kodak instead had pinned their hopes on the potential of this new "industry standard".... the Still Video Floppy (and fortunately, on a small format video based, thermal printer that also was being developed). In the spring of 1986 the Consumer Electronics Division was renamed the Electronic Photography Division. Please note that Electronic does not necessarily mean digital. The new "electronic" photo technology Kodak was about to adopt was an already 50+ year old technology. A low quality, analog TV signal and analog recording technology, which was often further horribly compressed as a composite video signal (the yellow, two wire, video phono plug). That being the recently obselete television broadcast standard that we did away with in favor of the new High Definition digital signal. Fortunately we didn't have to wait for that to happen first.
As one of the original members of that first Electronic Photography Division of Kodak I was witness to what was an extremely turbulent era in Kodak's history and in the history of photography as well. I recognized the coming convergance of computers and photography as early as 1984 and was in a position to influence the future direction of photography. I had been scanning my own photos into my home computer since 1985! I often brought prints in to work to show around to try to make my case. I would use one revolutionary advance, the personalization of the printing press, to ignite discussion and provide a catalyst to a digital evolution in photography!
The dawning of the digital age of photography!
What follows is the tale of my journey of exploration during this exciting period of time. Please keep in mind that this is the story of my experiences, from my perspective, and as such is not intended to be a definitive history of digital imaging. I am sure however, that my story will shed some light on how digital imaging had evolved at Kodak and throughout the industry in general.
The computer, besides being the most wonderful creative tool ever, is a great archealogical instrument as well. Each time you create a new document and save it to disk, it is automatically time stamped. If you're careful and backup all your work, you create a trail in time that can be followed backwards revealing the thought processes that occured. That's sort of how this project came about. While looking back at the files I'd saved over the years, I realized they were snapshots of my journey. Combining these snapshots with my recollections and information from articles in the various Mac magazines of the time (I still have many of them in boxes in the basement), and my colleagues from that period, I hope to assemble an illustrated document of those experiences.
This project is one I've been contemplating for a number of years but have been very reluctant to tackle. Not only because of the scope, but also for lack of a medium that could effectively present all the media types I've accumulated over the years. Everything from MacPaint files to Studio Pro animations, also Hypercard stacks, product illustrations, software prototypes, hi-res scans, 3D models, VR movies and more.
A book wouldn't have done it justice, much too linear. I had considered an interactive multimedia presentation possibly using Director, but there were issues with licensing (I couldn't afford it) and with the distribution across various platforms. Perhaps a gallery installation would be the way to go, it's a possibility I've yet to rule out. Fortunately, in 1996 I discovered the Worldwide Web and HTML and how dynamic it could be. It also doesn't cost much to get into except maybe in the time spent. This definitely was the medium I'd been waiting for.
I suggest you start in 1984, the year in which I made the decision to spend more than $2500 for my first computer, the original Macintosh 128K, and an additional $500 for an extra floppy drive, and a Imagewriter printer. In 1985 the ImageWriter printer would also become my first scanner as you will learn in following pages.
PS: Any galleries, museums or institutions interested in an multi-media installation on the genesis of digital imaging at Kodak? I have resources to borrow some period equipment like scanners, cameras, printers, and so forth. I have a few vintage Macs that could be running vintage software and prototypes, in addition to all the media above. Please contact me if interested.
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