Jennifer in Paradise: story of the first photo ever edited in Photoshop

by Silvia Mazzetta Date: 25-09-2020 photoshop photoediting

A photograph with more than 30 years of history has become an icon in popular culture, or at least it remains in the memory of those who have ever used Adobe Photoshop, the well-known tool for photo retouching. Behind software like Photoshop there are dozens of stories. One of them has to do with a photograph taken on a holiday trip and which served to bring to life what would become Photoshop. Its artistic value made it popular and it has reached our days.

A simple Internet search on "Jennifer in Paradise" will show you dozens of replicas of this photograph. An icon in the history of photography, not for its value as such but rather for what it represents for digital photo retouching. The photograph entitled Jennifer in Paradise helped bring about the existence of Photoshop, an application that will be 30 years old this 2020 as 1990 is the year in which its first version was released.

You may not be familiar with this image. But if you're combing grey hair, you've probably seen it on more than one occasion. It is one of those photographs that is talked about from time to time in the online media or in the press itself. What's more, The Guardian itself dedicated an article to her a few years ago explaining her origin and who this Jennifer was.

Her story is also very curious. It was a sample image. An attachment to the first versions of Photoshop so that potential buyers could see at first hand what that software could do to fix and correct photographs. However, the image was so suggestive that it soon began to spread at a time when the internet was not yet what it is today. If this phenomenon had occurred today, we would say that Jennifer in Paradise went viral. At a time when files were mainly shared by floppy disk.


Thomas Knoll has an idea


On several occasions I have said that the passage of time can be cruel for some. Or not, depending on how you look at it. We know names like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, for better or for worse. It even sounds to those who have not touched a computer or who are indifferent to computers or social networks. But this is not the case with other equally important names such as Thomas Knoll.

To Thomas Knoll we owe Photoshop, or Display, which is what he called it at the beginning. Then he called it ImagePro and finally PhotoShop, but that's another story. The fact is that Knoll had the idea of creating software that could be used to view images in grey scale, something very useful if we consider that in the 1980s many computers lacked the colour variety that we have today. With the support and help of his brother John Knoll, that idea evolved into an image processing tool, and in 1989 he sold his creation to Adobe Systems.

And it is precisely with Thomas' brother, John Knoll, that the story behind Jennifer in Paradise emerges. More than anything else because it was John who took that photo in 1987. And the one who appears in the image, Jennifer, was his girlfriend at the time.


A memory in the pocket


In 1987, John Knoll travelled to Bora Bora with Jennifer, his partner at the time. A dream holiday as you can see in the picture. And to immortalise the moment, John came up with the idea of photographing Jennifer with her back to him, on the beach, looking at the island of To'opua. A good photograph but a personal memory at the end of the day. And a great memory, because it seems that on that trip John took the opportunity to ask Jennifer to marry him.

It is relevant to mention that John and Jennifer met at Industrial Light & Magic. This well-known visual effects company for film and television was part of the also well-known Lucasfilm. According to several sources, both had worked tirelessly in the development of the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? in Spanish, which was released in 1988. And as a price for those marathon days, they were able to rest with a well-deserved holiday.

But let's go back to Photoshop. The project, initiated by Thomas, is now shared by his brother, John. The older brother takes advantage of his workplace facilities at Industrial Light & Magic to test and develop his image editor. He has the hardware, he is developing the software, but he is missing an essential raw material, the photographs. Without them, what will be Photoshop is meaningless.

So on a visit to friends in Apple's Advanced Technology Group lab, John Knoll takes advantage of the scanners they have to scan a photograph and use it as a demonstration for Photoshop. As fate would have it, he only had one particular image with him at the time. Specifically, the memory of his holiday that same year with his partner, Jennifer. A photograph of 15 centimetres by 10 centimetres that became a TIF file.


An ideal demonstration


Chance, destiny, made Jennifer in Paradise, as that photograph has come to be called, become the first photosogrammed colour image. In the words of John Knoll himself, the image had everything to be a sample file. The chromatic variety and the elements it showed were ideal for making all kinds of retouches and, thus, trying out all the tools that Photoshop offered.

But who would have thought that Jennifer's photograph, backwards and topless, would transcend the use as a test image of Photoshop to become an icon. The fault lies partly with John himself, who decided to include the TIF image alongside the Photoshop software so that the companies he visited could test the software with a good example of digital photography.

As I said before, those who tried Photoshop made a copy of the photograph. So that TIF file was circulated from computer to computer. In an interview with The Guardian in 2014, John and Jennifer talk about their surprise at the popularity of this photograph, which even became part of an artistic performance in the form of video art in London.

Jennifer in Paradise is not included in Photoshop. In fact, other images have been overshadowing her as an icon of this digital retouching software, such as the famous galloping horses or the eye that had several versions, both of which are visible when you start Photoshop.

About the protagonists of this story, John Knoll continued to work at Industrial Light & Magic, while his brother worked for years on the development of Photoshop when it was acquired by Adobe. However, in 2019 both brothers were awarded the Scientific and Engineering Award by the Hollywood Oscars organization, an award that recognizes the work of creators of technologies or technical resources that make possible the cinema as we know it.

If Wikipedia and LinkedIn are updated, John Knoll is still working at Industrial Light & Magic. However, as Chief Creative Officer, since 2013, and after going through two other positions since he started working at Industrial Light & Magic in 1986.

Jennifer Knoll is still married to John after more than 30 years. However, she no longer works at Industrial Light & Magic. There she was involved in the production of effects for such famous films as Back to the future, Ghostbusters, The Abyss and the aforementioned Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Since May 2008, Jennifer has been Director of Development at DotGreen, an environmental non-profit organisation.

by Silvia Mazzetta Date: 25-09-2020 photoshop photoediting hits : 4345  
Silvia Mazzetta

Silvia Mazzetta

Web Developer, Blogger, Creative Thinker, Social media enthusiast, Italian expat in Spain, mom of little 9 years old geek, founder of  @manoweb. A strong conceptual and creative thinker who has a keen interest in all things relate to the Internet. A technically savvy web developer, who has multiple  years of website design expertise behind her.  She turns conceptual ideas into highly creative visual digital products. 


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