It is hard to imagine that Photoshop has recently turned 25 years old. Written by Thomas Knoll from 1987 during his spare time, Knoll had been a keen amateur photographer who had learnt his skills in a darkroom below his parents house.
Knoll’s brother, John, was a digital effects artist at Industrial Light and Magic, and the software was soon being used around the office. Display, as it was then known, was passed on to others by word of mouth and with further development and input from John, Thomas Knoll eventually had a product that could be commercialised.
Display, was considered, and rejected by, a number of companies, but in 1988 was licensed and packaged with the Barneyscan scanners selling about 200 copies. Then, Adobe, a specialist desktop publishing company producing PageMaker bought the product in 1988, which by that time had been renamed Photoshop. It was something of a sleeper, Adobe did not invest any money in the product and Thomas Knoll continued development at home in Michigan on his Apple Mac Plus, while his brother continued to to work at Industrial Light and Magic.
It seems no-one knew quite what they had on their hands. “Adobe thought we’d sell about 500 copies of Photoshop a month,” says Knoll. “Not in my wildest dreams did we think creatives would embrace the product in the numbers and ways they have.”
Clearly Adobe was wrong, on 19 February 1990, Photoshop 1.0 was released for the Mac to compliment PageMaker and Illustrator. With a wider range of potential users, Photoshop overtook sales of PageMaker, going on to sell tens of millions of copies. While the first Adobe version of Photoshop had some of the more advanced colour handling features stripped for copyright reasons, as Adobe improved colour handling (CMYK mid 1991), and added features like layers in 1994.
Photoshop soon became the industry standard image editing software and has gone on to make Adobe one of the biggest software companies in the world. Adobe has bought many other companies for their software, most notably Macromedia (Dreamweaver). Its in house program Illustrator, also first released in 1988, was initially a flop on platforms other than the Apple Mac and Corel Draw was seen as the superior product.
The word Photoshop, like Google and Twitter, is now a verb in common usage. To Photoshop something often has a negative connotation. Over 20% of the final round entries in the World Press Photo competition of 2015 were rejected for being manipulated, with the sports category being particularly manipulated. The winning image was also disqualified “(a)fter receiving new information regarding Giovanni Troilo’s first-prize Contemporary Issues story.”
Image manipulation has been going on since the beginnings of photography, but digital manipulation has been a particularly sticky problem because it is somewhat more difficult to detect. It can be argued that it is OK to remove pimples and blemishes from a portrait to make the subject look better because such things are temporary and don’t alter the basic look of the person. However, when body shapes and other features are altered beyond recognition, or news images are manipulated then the maker of that image has crossed into territory that is misleading. Images such as the those from the Madrid train bombing in 2004, are seen as particularly controversial when, in this case, body parts were removed before publication.
Adobe and Photoshop are often blamed for purveying an unrealistic view of society. However, that is like saying that a car designer at Volvo in Sweden is responsible for a car crash in New Zealand. It is how the product is used by the end user that is to blame, not the product itself. With the almost universal use of digital cameras, there is always going to be some level of manipulation, even film image could be manipulated through exposure and processing. What is at issue is the level and type of manipulation.
Will Photoshop survive another 25 years?
The short answer is, yes. It may not be in the form that we currently understand, it may not be on devices were currently use, and it may not be called Photoshop and be from a company called Adobe. However, while the technology will almost certainly change, the need to create, process, and manipulate images will always be a reality. We have moved from cave drawing to paper, to chemicals, to electronic images, so there will always be a creative need for Photoshop and its successors. 25 years is just a tiny blip on the human history of creating images.