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June 16, 1998


HCL Infosystems

The Reluctant Technologist: Former photographer George Jardine is The Reluctant Technologist: Former photographer George Jardine is

Email this story to a friend. Mathematics is the science of patterns, declares Stanford University linguist Keith Devlin.

Patterns in the DNA weaving, sand-dune building and supernova-firing nature. Patterns in the space shuttle igniting, bicycle pedalling, software writing technology. And patterns in the hip thrusting, fret board slipping, brush wielding world of art.

It is the pursuit of these patterns that will drive humanity through the second renaissance, which will result from the Information Age. When we will move on from building cranes and planes to building tools that will mimic the patterns of the mind.

And this will call on thousands of renaissance people to fuel a culture that will match the shine on their spaceships. For instance, it will surely call on people like George Jardine, the digital video evangelist with Adobe, the American software company.

Jardine is a reluctant technologist. He would rather be an artist. Yet the irony is that he joyfully made a transition from the world of photography, which is closer to art, to the world of software, which is closer to technology!

People like Jardine understand patterns wherever they encounter them. Pigments or pixels do not matter; their trip lies in the essence of the patterns they form.

Most importantly, it does not matter whether those patterns are formed on a computer screen or in the elegance of software code, whirring off a hard disk.

"I am a toy freak, a technology freak," he explains to Rediff readers in this interview with Priya Ganapati as he traces the development of a small utility software that grew into the power tool people call Photoshop. Excerpts:

You are a digital video evangelist for Adobe Systems. What exactly do you do?
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I work in the evangelists group at Adobe, which is a group of five evangelists that include a PageMaker evangelist and a Web evangelist.

There are a number of roles for an evangelist. One is to write tips and techniques for the Web. Another is to meet with high-end users and give them a non-sales talk. That is, tell them about the product without all the sales hype and hand out tips and techniques to enhance the maximum possibilities of the package.

We access high-end users, talk to them, find out what they think about the product, what they want out of the product and bring that information back to the product marketing managers and engineers who will then work to improve the product.

What has been your role in the development of Adobe Photoshop?
I was involved as a product manager in developing the Photoshop 3.0 Deluxe CD-ROM version, which is not the same as the actual Photoshop.

It is a CD product with a lot of additional tips and techniques. It has a lot of ancillary peripheral work in it that provides feedback and input on interface issues.

Photoshop is a team effort with the product managers, marketing managers and engineers working on it. We (the evangelists) go see customers and bring back their feedback, which is used to improve the product.

How many people are on the team developing Photoshop?
There are eight to ten core engineers, an overall engineering team of 30 approximately, 10 to 15 QA (quality assurance) engineers, project managers and a production team of about 50 to 60.

There are a lot of people contributing to the programme with lots of ideas. But yes, there are a few who are working harder than the others to see that the product is a success. The senior engineers, products marketing managers, have a heavier rating than the others do.

Basically, it is a team effort. As the company gets bigger, we have broader issues and more people working to make the product better. I always say this in my teaching workshops: The newest feature of Photoshop is the one you asked for and we delivered.

How did Photoshop evolve?
Again, there is no clear-cut answer to this. Photoshop was actually developed by two brothers Tom Knoll and John Knoll in the mid-Eighties.

They sold the software to Barneyscan, which was shipping it with its scanners as utilities to access their scanners.

Adobe recognised the potential of the product, which had bitmap editing ability and purchased the technology in 1988. In itself, Photoshop is probably the private vision of two people.

Can you tell us how Photoshop evolved into its present form?
I am not sure about dates. What I am giving are approximates. In 1989, Photoshop version 2.0 was a significant progress from all earlier software as it had CMYK editing bitmaps with preview mode. That helped Photoshop make the big push forward in editing.

Photoshop version 2.5 was out a couple of years later in '92. It brought in 'quick mask' and a whole bunch of new filters.

Photoshop 3.0 was a revolution in the product in terms of 'layers' and the 'apply image' commands. I have been working for Adobe for four years and Photoshop 3.0 was my first project.

Photoshop 4.0, released in 1996, was a significant effort to bring about interfacing with the rest of the products in terms of actions that helped make the programme 'automatable'. Photoshop 4.0 helped to integrate the production line in terms of keystrokes and palettes in conjunction with PageMaker 6.0 and 6.5.

Given your background as a professional photographer, would you rather look at Photoshop as a work of art or a product of technology?
I think it is both. I believe a product of technology can also be a work of art. Photoshop is not just technology because there are a group of very creative people using it.

Every art is shaped by the tools and the methods of the artist.

Why has digital art not yet become mainstream?
Digital art is in its infancy and given some time it will definitely be elevated to the level of other conventional art forms. Art is an eternal quest for expression after all.

When tools change there is some resistance initially and people don't accept change easily. For example when television was first introduced, television shows were more like televised radio shows. People used to just wear microphones and present things in a radio format.

Every time technology changes people try and emulate the past. Your Web site is the best example of how new technology has brought about a change in the way people look at things.

It offers interactivity with the readers and the possibility of instant news updates, which a more conventional medium would probably not be able to give.

Digital art will open new horizons. In the future it will be a legitimate art form in itself. I think that it is part of the challenge to find out what digital art is capable of and the horizons it opens up to us.

Why did you make the transition from being a photographer to a digital video expert? What was it like?
Because I am a toy freak, a technology freak. I love adventures and am fascinated by technology. I love being on the cutting edge all the time.

  Uelsmann's poster
One of the things I really like about my job is teaching, which offers a really different kind of creativity. For example, I worked on the production of a poster with Jerry Uelsmann.

Jerry is the director of the photo programme at the University of Florida. He is a very famous photographer and has recently retired. My background as a photographer allowed me to understand the process very well and help bring together the creative thoughts between us. It was a very gratifying project as I could use my photography background in directing the production of a digital art form.

Can you give some specific instances from your experience at Adobe where your background as a photographer helped?
I don't think I have any specific examples from there. It's just that the general background knowledge of dynamic range, pits and depths helps to give you an understanding of the media. When teaching Photoshop this helps me know what the professional end-result of any project will be. It helps to guide through the proper methods.

How has your sensibility as an artist helped you understand the technology that went towards developing the Photoshop package?
I am a technologist more than an artist. Even in photography, I was trained in a very technical way. I went into digital art with simply the idea that good design does not change. In my teaching workshops when students ask me whether they should study design or techniques, I tell them technology is inconsequential. Design is essential.

But do you think it is possible to create a good design without grasping the technology that goes into it?
Anyone can learn technology. It is hoped that my students will learn the technological strength and scientific background that goes to create a good piece of digital art. In the course of my career, I worked for food photographers who were incredibly technically brilliant.

But in Denver, I also worked with fashion photographers whose technology was terrible but they had great vision.

There are no rules. Some people have technology, some vision, rarely both, but it does happen as in case of Jerry Uelsmann. I am fairly impressed with the lack of technical knowledge or savvy that successful photographers like Ansell Adams have. They are driven by a sense of greater vision to express their needs.

What have been your experiences in the development of Photoshop?
Let me make it clear that I am not to be considered the primary developer of Photoshop. My role is to educate people about Photoshop. It is a tool that can appear to be rather opaque and technical just like when you first put on your computer it can appear to be very opaque and technical. My job is to help understand the subtle connections in the programme. I believe that Photoshop is a very elegant tool and can be used to create very elegant art.

What do you regard yourself to be? A technologist or an artist?
I am definitely a technical person who would much rather be an art person.

What have been your initial experiences when you made the transition from a photographer to a digital art guru?
I did not face any difficulties when I made this transition. But it was not smooth sailing all the way through. Initially, I wasn't completely aware that I would be involved in computer imaging. I just became interested in technical aspects when I was doing work like desktop publishing, typesetting and digital imaging. It was not a linear process.

I simply wanted to work with computers because I was fascinated with their potential elegance.

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