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My Journey with Photography and Technology - A Navy photographer, BA in computer science and UCSD Pascal, Ten years at Apple Computer

time digital photoshop computers

I’ve been working with photography and technology most of my life. My first camera was an Instamatic 104, which I took to England on a trip when I was 14. The Instamatic camera used 35 mm film but the film was preloaded into a plastic cartridge that was simply dropped into the camera and then you started shooting. The image format was square, versus the traditional 1 × 1.5 aspect ratio of 35 mm. I got some good pictures on that trip and this started an interest in photography that has become stronger and more pronounced during my life.

A Navy photographer

After two hard working quarters in 1972 as a freshman at University of California at San Diego’s Revelle College, I found the beach more interesting than school where I was studying pre-med. Originally I went to Revelle because it was a beautiful place and far away from San Jose. After 6 weeks I realized that I was at the last possible time to drop all my classes and not flunk out. I was not ready for school so I went to the Navy recruiter’s office and I got a commitment in writing on my enlistment contract that I was to be a Navy photographer.

After boot camp, where I was one of only two out of 80 in my company who had any college experience, I went to the navy photography school at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida. This was a very large building filled with hundreds of little darkrooms each having faucets with flowing developer, stop-bath, and fixer. You did not drink out of those taps but it was great for a photographer. I got to use every kind of camera of that time including Leica 35 mm cameras, Mamiya twin lens 120, 4 × 5, and even a 16 mm Aeroflex movie camera with sound track on the film. The photography training there was very good, even if it was not artistically inclined. I lucked out and got to stay and took every course they offered including photojournalism and motion picture. I learned the technology of traditional film photography of that time, 1974. After spending the rest of my Navy time on the shooting crew at the Fleet Training Center back in San Diego, I decided to go back to school at University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

BA in computer science and UCSD Pascal

The prior pre-med competition experience had convinced me I no longer wanted to be a biology major and that I actually really liked photography. I almost took a photo job at an ad agency in Los Angeles but I said, I’ve got to finish college first now or maybe I never will. During those first two quarters in college before the Navy, my friend, Roger Sumner, had scared me away from computers because he was at the computer center for what seemed like 24 hours a day, his eyes were usually red from lack of sleep, and he spent most of his time reading through piles of computer printout listings of massive Algol programs that ran the main Burroughs 6700 computer at UCSD’s computer center.

I took an initial computer class to learn how to program in a computer programming language called Pascal. The following quarter I was helping to teach the class and had decided that Computer Science was going to be my major. Thus began a 13-year hiatus from photography and a deep immersion into technology.

I learned all about computers: how they work, how to program them, how to write compilers and assemblers to translate from human-like languages into the numbers that computers understand, and how to teach and help others understand. As I learned about computers, I also taught others the entire time I was there. You may think you understand something but when you have to teach it to someone else, that is when you really learn it! I worked on the UCSD Pascal project where we created a portable computer programming system and ported it to other new “micro” computers. Most of these new computers were the micro-computers that were just becoming popular in the late 1970s. The Apple II, based on the 6502 chip, was one of the first. I ported the UCSD system to the Intel 8086, a hot new chip that several years later became the base for the IBM PC. When you port a system like this, you get a chip on a board in a box with an instruction manual sharing the instructions of the computer chip and a description of how they work. This is basically the numbers you have to feed into that computer to make it add, subtract, etc. I had to write the program, which included an assembler that would translate the human-understood computer language into numbers that the computer would understand. I then had to write the assembly language instructions to run the UCSD system on that particular computer. I had to get the entire UCSD system up and running on this new computer. This is much harder than pushing the button to bootstrap, or start, you computer. You are writing all the computer instructions that the new computer has to go through to actually run itself. Obviously, I was into this technology at that time and I learned a lot about how computers work. Ken Bowles, who started and ran the UCSD Pascal project, was honored by UCSD in the fall of 2004 as one of the most innovative professors and creating a computer system that became well known and used throughout the computer industry. What I learned on this project gave me the confidence and knowledge to work anywhere in this new field.

Ten years at Apple Computer

In 1979, I became tired of school and wanted to get a job in the motion picture industry. I interviewed for these jobs and while I was waiting for their answers I went to San Jose to visit my family. While I was there I went to have lunch with my college friend who worked at a small company called Apple Computer. It was a long lunch and by the end of the day they had offered me a job.

I worked at Apple from January of 1980 until I took a leave of absence to work on my personal photography in August of 1989. During almost 10 years at Apple I did Apple II Pascal, based on UCSD Pascal; worked on Apple III Pascal; created the Lisa Pascal Development System; and also built Mac Smalltalk, an object-oriented programming system for the Macintosh. I was heavily into software development environments; the tools that allow other programmers to create software.

Seeing Photoshop got me back into photography

This all changed one day in 1988, I believe, when I was walking down the hall at Apple and saw a bunch of people crowded around a cubicle. It was Russell Brown from Adobe showing off a new program called Photoshop about a year before it ever shipped. At the end of his demo I asked him if I could get a copy. He reached into his shirt pocket and handed me my first copy of Photoshop on a diskette.

Soon after that I left the field of software development environments and was developing the technical end of a research corporate alignment, the “Medianet Project,” between Apple Computer and Nynex, the phone company in Manhattan. I got to spend a lot of time in New York and learn all about the publishing industry and how it dealt with images. Even back in the late 1980s, broadband fiber high-speed networks were available in New York City and people in the publishing industry were very concerned about how to transport large color digital files around on these networks.

Back in the late 1980s, the advertising industry used million dollar Scitex computer systems to manipulate color photographs. They would pay a “Scitex Shop” $300 an hour to use these special computers to do things that Photoshop could easily do on an iMac today. I was this guy from Apple visiting the multimillion dollar Scitex shops in New York and telling them “you’ll be able to do all that on a Mac soon.” They all thought I was nuts, but most of them went out of business just a couple of years later when what I had told them came true. Most of the typesetters had lost their jobs a year or two before that when Lisa then Macintosh and other PCs were suddenly able to use CompuGraphic software to set type, which had previously been an art form done by hand. I had helped the CompuGraphic team port their typesetting software to the Lisa.

The Medianet project was fun and I worked on it until I decided to leave Apple in late 1989 to pursue my own photographic interests. I learned a lot about digital photography during those last two years at Apple and certainly decided that it was now to become my main focus. I became very good a Photoshop, but trying to actually make color digital prints at that time was still quite frustrating. The desktop computers in the late 1980s were fast enough to do design and layout, but working with a 3 megabyte Photoshop file back then was probably slower than working with a 600 megabyte file today.

Away from technology, back to the craft of photography

My time at Apple was a great experience, I was there when everyone wanted to work at Apple. It was the place to be and there were lots of great people there. Lots of big egos too though! When I started there were fewer than 500 employees including manufacturing and when I left the company had grown to over 10,000. Apple’s technology was always better than Microsoft. UCSD Pascal was better technology than Microsoft and the UCSD system actually competed with Bill Gates to be the initial software on the IBM PC. The best technology does not always win the political battles though. Individuals and different teams at Apple were working against each other instead of working together to beat the, at that time unexciting, competition of Microsoft. Poor marketing decisions, bad relationships with dealers and distributors, noncommittal to corporate alignments, and in-battles between engineers, were the things that gave Microsoft a leg up when Apple really had the better technology. A lot of great technology ended up in the round file. Most of the technology we all take for granted today was included in ideas and discussions we had during meetings for the Medianet project—back in 1988. A “My Yahoo”-like thing on the Internet, Java-like transportable objects, downloadable movies, virtual tours, DVDs, and many other ideas were floating around back then. My Medianet boss, Mike Liebhold, is the one that convinced Apple to have a CD player built into every system. What a great idea! It sometimes takes a long time for ideas to become actual products that people use on a daily basis.

I was really ready to get back to the craftsmanship required in photography where the tools were not changing all the time and a person could focus on things like making a really great print. Working at Apple there was a new operating system version every week or two. You could usually play with the latest technical toys by just calling the company up and saying you worked at Apple and wanted to try it. I had a budget in our group of $100,000 a year to buy new digital photography toys. This was when the original Nikon 35 mm scanner cost $10,000; the first Canon “Still Video” digital camera was $10,000; and the Dupont Forecast, the first dye-sub color printer, cost $60,000. I wanted something that was stable, that actually worked, and that I personally could afford.

I took a one-year leave from Apple in late 1989 and finished the darkroom I had built into my house. I purchased a Jobo processor so I could process my own color and black and white film and also make my own Cibachrome prints. I had a nice Bessler enlarger with a color head and started shooting film with my new 4 × 5 camera. I took a Cibachrome masking class from Charles Cramer of the Ansel Adams darkroom behind the Best Studio up in Yosemite. Charlie was making dye transfer prints at the time and I was quite impressed with these. They were far better than anything a computer printer could do. I thought about learning the dye transfer process from Charlie.

I still have my finger in digital too

I got invited to a National Photographer’s Association (NPPA) event at Martha’s Vineyard in 1989 where I met Russell Brown of Adobe, Shelly Katz of Time magazine, and George Wedding of the Sacramento Bee , among others. Everyone who attended wanted to learn this new digital technology and we had some early digital cameras and Kodak dye sub-printers, which were really quite good.

Because of my experiences and contacts from the Medianet project and the Martha’s vineyard event, Apple Computer and the Seybold Publishing Conference hired me for two years, 1990 and 1991, to conduct a live demonstration at the Seybold publishing conference sharing everything from scanning to final pre-press output using desktop computers and peripherals as contrasted to those million dollar Sytex systems. I produced a full-color brochure using the Mac and sold copies of it to Nikon and other companies to use as promos at trade-shows. Sometimes I would get phone calls from people in the Midwest who had my brochures and suggested “I’m sure you did that on a Scitex machine,” but I produced them on the Mac with a Nikon scanner and Linotype image setter.

I taught my first Photoshop workshop for the Sacramento Bee in 1990. Not many people were teaching Photoshop back then. I then went on to teach at the Kodak Center for Creative Imaging in Camden, Maine. This was the first place in the country to have a great set-up for teaching digital workshops. At that time, it seemed that Kodak was positioned to be a leader in this new digital revolution. Apparently they were having their own internal political wars between the new digital folks and the old guard film and paper group. From what I heard, the film and paper group won out at that time and many great digital printer and other products and ideas went down the toilet. The Center for Creative Imaging was cut from the Kodak budget and soon went out of business. Years later Kodak had to pay for this lack of vision about digital technology with massive layoffs and loss of market share. Now, of course, film and film cameras are going away fast. I hope to still be able to get 120 format and 4 × 5 Velvia, but I do not use 35 mm film cameras anymore and digital certainly beats them all. I use a Pentax 6 × 7 from time to time, but these days it is hard to find a good place to properly process the film.

I met my wife, Wendy Crumpler while giving a Photoshop talk at the Daystar booth at the Macworld conference in 1993. Wendy initially hired me to teach Photoshop to her commercial clients in New York City where she lived and worked. I was in Santa Cruz, California, and a long-distance romance started. We wrote our first Photoshop Artistry book while also having our first child together in 1995. Our son Max was born two weeks after the book was published. He is 12 years old now and we’re just finishing the 8th edition of our book.

Since the early 1990s I have taught Photoshop and digital printmaking workshops at the Seybold Publishing Conference, Palm Beach Photographic Workshops, University of California Santa Cruz, Mac Summit Conference, Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, Anderson Ranch, International Center of Photography, Fotofusion, and many other places. Wendy and I have also been teaching workshops in our studio for the last 7 years. Teaching workshops or providing a place to teach workshops is a separate technology issue because you have to buy new computers, scanners, printers, and other equipment every year or two as image data continue to get bigger and Photoshop requires more RAM.

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