|ISBN 0-13-074410-7||Published by Prentice Hall in 1988.|
|Out of print since 1995.||128 pages, with 89 photos.|
This book shows how photographs can be scanned
into a computer and manipulated in a `digital darkroom'
at a resolution that is close to the resolution of
commonly used films and photographic papers.
Although the results can be startling, most of the images in this book were made in only a few seconds of computer time. The transformations can be specified in a few lines of text with the picture transformation language `popi' that is introduced in the first chapters of the book. All transformations can be reproduced completely with a small portable picture editing system, that is also discussed in the book. It is written in the programming language C, and you can run it on your home computer.
This book describes an early digital image editing system that
was developed at Bell Labs in 1984 by Gerard Holzmann, with
a lot of help from Rob Pike, and Ken Thompson.
The book was published by Prentice Hall in 1988, and
went out of print in 1995.
The C sources for the popi (portable pico) image editor that are discussed in the book can still be downloaded from Bell Labs as a shell archive. Also available is a tar-file with the pre-ANSI C source code for the original pico implementation for the VAX, from 1984, including the on-the-fly compiler that Ken Thompson and Rob Pike wrote. (Of course, unless you still have a VAX-750 from the early eighties, this is mostly for inspiration.)
Although the book never sold a large number of copies, it inspired a lot of people in different ways. For many years there was a blossoming users group that maintained an extended version of the sources, with support for many different types of displays (see for instance the archive from Rich Burridge's site). Some re-implementations of the software as Java applets have also been spotted on the web at various points in time.
In 1989 CNN Science and Technology Report covered the digital image editing method introduced in the book (see clip). We also made a short video (PixelFace), a portion of which was included in the CNN story.
Especially after the book went out of print, it has become somewhat of a cult-classic, cherished by geeks and gurus for its irreverent distortions of the pictures of some well-known computer scientists that all worked at Bell Labs at the time the book first came out, e.g., Al Aho (now at Columbia University), Ken Thompson (now retired from Google), Dennis Ritchie (who sadly passed away in October 2011), Rob Pike (now at Google in Australia), Jon Bentley (now at Avaya), Doug McIlroy (now at Darthmouth), Theo Pavlidis (now retired from the State University of NY), Greg Chesson (sadly passed away in June 2015), Luca Cardelli (now at Microsoft Research), and of course Peter Weinberger, one of our first victims of image transformations (now also at Google). (See pjw.html for some background on this.)
In retrospect, the book is also notable for first coining the term digital darkroom. At the time the book was published, the term most commonly used was the misnomer 'electronic darkroom.' The pico and popi (portable pico) editors predate many now familiar mainstream photo editing programs, such as Adobe Photoshop. You can still find many of the effects from the book among the more popular effects that are included in Photoshop (though without credit to the book alas).
The book also made some seemingly wild predictions about the coming switch to digital photography. For instance, on page 8, it says:
Gerard Holzmann, Murray Hill, January 2003|
(with updates October 2011 and a few more in May 2018)
"A true cutting-edge book, which provides its readers with a glimpse
into the future of photography."
"A thought provoking book [...] chances are that photography will never be quite the same."
"Some of [the book] is amazing. I wonder if photographs will be courtroom evidence any longer."
"The images are sometimes disturbing, sometimes funny, and always intriguing."
"You can learn how to creatively distort, mask, and merge your 35mm digitized negatives using just a few simple lines of C. [...] Hot stuff!!"
"A unique and quite strange book about what you can do to photos on a PC."
"A how-to guide for turning a computer into a digital darkroom."