Who's Who at NASA

We had a lot of fun building that software. Part of the fun was that we had a fairly large database of portraits that a colleague of mine at Bell Labs, Rob Pike, and I had taken. We had taken 4” x 5” Polaroid portraits of all of our colleagues – most of them quite famous people – so we digitized that database and then it was just begging for us to do something with it, like changing people’s faces and things like that.

So, we built this digital darkroom software, and initially it led to this thought that it should be unnecessary to first take a conventional picture, digitize it on an expensive scanner, and then manipulate it on a computer and print it back out. It should be possible to just take the picture digitally in the first place, so I tried for a while to get people excited about building a digital camera, but my colleagues told me that it was impossible to get large enough CCDs for such a camera with the existing technology. CCDs were invented at Bell Labs, so I was in the right place to pursue it, but at that time, in 1984, the resolution of the CCDs was not yet sufficient. That, of course, meant that it was just a matter of time. It would happen, and once it did happen, since the digital photography software was so powerful and so much better than the conventional darkroom process with chemicals and everything, it was inevitable that the change would happen. So I made that prediction in the book that I published in 1988.

Actually, that book was published under unusual conditions. Prentice-Hall had asked me to write a textbook about software verification techniques, and I told them I really didn’t feel like it, but that I’d consider it if they let me publish the photography book first. The digital photography book was much more fun to create than the software verification book.

NTB: And very much ahead of its time.

Holzmann: It was ahead of its time. I still occasionally exchange emails with my publisher, John Wait, sending him snippets from the news about Kodak shutting down its conventional film business and things of that nature. I tell him, “See, I told you so,” because he, of course, did not believe it at the time.

Today, every amateur can do more with Photoshop on a computer than he or she could ever have dreamt of doing in a standard darkroom. I still have all my old film cameras, but they’ve been joined by a growing family of digital siblings. Like most people I haven’t taken a picture with a film camera in a long time, but I think I’ll only really be happy when I can mount a full-frame sensor on the back of my 8” x 10” Cambo view camera. At the old film resolution, that should produce images of about 150 gigapixel. I don’t think we’re quite ready for that yet, but very likely that, too, will come. Give it ten years.

For more information, contact Dr. Gerard Holzmann at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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