Happy Birthday Photoshop!

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They grow up so fast, don't they?

Adobe Photoshop turns 20 years old this month. It seems like only yesterday that little 6 year-old Photoshop 4.0 discovered nondestructive image editing with Layers. Or when he was 8 years old and impressed you with his multiple undo History Palette. But at the same time you wanted to send him to bed without dinner for the horrible way he mismanaged color in 1998. We all watched as Photoshop went from the pimply pre-teen years of 6.0 to when he began developing facial hair with CS2's Bridge and Smart Objects. And now he's off in college... sniff...

                          

Ah, memories. I recall the first time I played with Photoshop. I was a young kid with a dream. Well, okay, I was a 20-something working on a Scitex Prisma workstation. Scitex was what all the cool imaging people were working on in 1990. Then along came this program called Photoshop 1.0 from Adobe. Some of my coworkers at Quad Graphics knew it as a funny program with the creepy bitmapped eyeball icon running on that little beige box called the Macintosh over in the corner. Back then it was not so much of a photo editor as it was a paint program with a few image correction and optimization capabilities.

By 1993 I was weened off the Scitex system, and had my own speedy Quadra 950 running Photoshop 2.0. Back then, Photoshop was no replacement for a high-end CEPS system. The Mac, running at a speedy 33MHz, was dreadfully slow (by today's standards), RAM was very limited and expensive, and the tools in Photoshop did not compare to a $200,000 workstation like the Scitex Prismax. What a difference 17 years makes.

Today, with Photoshop 11 (CS4), Adobe has created a something that has transcended proper grammar, as the noun "Photoshop" has morphed into a verb in many circles. The phrase "We can photoshop that out." is as popular as "Please hand me a kleenex." or, "Can you make me a xerox?".

Did the Knoll brothers ever imagine what would become of Barneyscan XP (Photoshop 0.87) back in 1988? I don't think it's making too much of a leap to say that Orville and Wilbur Wright are to air travel, what Thomas and John Knoll are to digital imaging. Okay, I'll give Russell Brown some props as well.

           

                         The Photoshop 1.0 Splash screen with the spooky eyeball logo.
 
 

Photoshop evolved into the tool it is today because the digital imaging and desktop publishing markets around it flourished at the same time. First it was low-cost desktop scanners, then digital photography. This digital revolution helped define what Photoshop has become today.

It is impossible to imagine any image you see in a magazine, newspaper, catalog, billboard or a website that hasn't been touched by Photoshop. Sure, you can do a lot of color correction and image enhancement in RAW processors like Apple Aperture or Adobe Lightroom, but for full feature image editing, Photoshop what you need.

Over the years, there were many programs that came and went that were supposed to kill Photoshop, or at least compete with it. There was software like Live Picture (anyone remember FITS files?), and in 1995 Quark announced plans for Xposure, the Photoshop killer that never made it to market.

When I was in art school in 1984 (yikes!) I can recall my instructors trying to put aside our fears by saying the computer would only be another tool for an artist to use. They used to say things like, "You could take a computer programmer and ask them to create art on a computer and they couldn't do it. But train an artist how to use a computer, and it becomes another tool in their arsenal.".

            

Who could forget this little bit of photo retouching from 1994? Time Inc. turned OJ's mug shot into an illustration with a little help from Photoshop. See more of these famous manipulated photos here.

Over the last 20 years, Photoshop has become that indispensable, omnipresent tool for every artist. In the right hands, amazing, original works of art can be created. In journalist or marketing hands, it can even be used to slant the news or make the unreal seem real to support an accompanying story. See the OJ photos above. It can do something simple like subdue a red cast from your child's face. Or clone the barf stains off the carpet from the 20 year old Photoshop's all night kegger at the fraternity last night.

Here's to another 20 years. There is still so much for that Photoshop kid to learn...

Topics: Creative

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