His name is Lena Forsén. She is Swedish and must be around 69 years old. But fame came very soon. This story begins in 1972, when a young Swedish model named Lena Forsén appears in the November issue of the popular magazine Playboy. Nothing more and nothing less than in the central pages. At just 21 years old. The photography was made by Dwight Hooker, one of the most reputable photographers at the time and who had already published his photographs on the central pages of Playboy up to seven times. That without counting the numerous covers.

But the important thing about this story is that the color photograph that occupied the central fold of the magazine Playboy November 1972 would transcend that publication and curiously become a standard for test images, which, in turn, brings to life the digital image standards that we all use on the internet. To the point that many have called it “the First Lady of the Internet”, or in Spanish, the First Lady of the internet.

He said that this story begins in 1972 and seems to have no end. From time to time, media from around the world remember Lena Forsén, born as Lena Sjööblom and later Lena Söderberg. A true internet and digital image icon. It even has its own page on Wikipedia. Hence we know that her birthday is March 31. That she was a playmate in November 1972 and that her fame has come to her for the use that has been made of her photography rather than for her artistic work.

From model to playmate

Although it could be more extensive, the entry into Wikipedia about Lena Forsén, Lenna For many on the internet, it offers a lot of information about this Swedish former model. And, as I was saying, media such as Wired, BBC, Vice or San Francisco Chronicle have dedicated a few articles to it explaining how the central image of an adult magazine was used to define digital standards.

Today, the person the internet knows as Lenna, with two enes, lives in Sweden. She was married twice and has three children and several grandchildren. As for her professional career, she started as a model when she traveled to the United States from her native Sweden for family reasons. At first it was a model of jewelry and catalogs. And its star moment came in 1972 when Dwight Hooker photographed her for the center pages of Playboy.

Curiously, the recognitions and fame have not reached him from the field of fashion. In 1997 she received an award for her contribution to the internet and digital photography. And it is that thanks to her most popular photography standards such as the Jpeg or the MPEG. Hence, the Society for Imaging Science and Technology recognized his role in this story.

The right place at the right time

Than Lenna became the First Lady of the internet is largely due to Alexander Sawchuk, an electronic engineer from MIT and who has worked all his life on issues related to image processing, optoelectronics, data storage, etc. In 1973 Sawchuk was at the University of Southern California. More specifically, at the Signal and Image Processing Institute, to understand us, the Institute of Signal and Image Processing.

For reasons of chance, a copy of the Playboy November 1972 he was there. And given the need to use a photograph to test its image compression algorithm, the winner was the photograph of Lenna in the center of the magazine. The goal of the experiment was to make a full-color image that spanned two pages into a lightweight image file with the least loss of quality. To scan the photograph they used a scanner Hewlett-Packard 2100, which generated an image of 512 x 512 lines. Of course, for obvious reasons of decorum, they only scanned the back, up to the shoulders.

The file soon spread to the team members themselves and to strangers. And they had achieved a high-quality scanning, for the time, in a relatively easy to handle size. Also, the photograph showed a lot of colors, making it very useful for testing and analysis related to digital image processing.

Model and icon without knowing it

It is curious to know that during the 70s, Lena Forsén continued with her work as a model. After appearing in various catalogs and becoming Miss November thanks to Playboy, came to appear in catalogs of brands such as Kodak or Xerox. That is, while on the one hand her 1972 photograph was becoming popular in the field of digital image processing, without her knowing it, in parallel Lenna It contributed in the same sector appearing in the advertising of technology related to photography and image.

Specifically, as a Wired article from last year shows, Lenna appears on the cover of a 1973 Kodak catalog and on the cover of an instruction manual for a Xerox 7700. And at the same time, his scanned photograph was the cover of a PhD thesis titled Some Aspects of Perception Based Image Coding by Torbjörn Kronander.

Returning to that image, as compiled by a 2012 article from The Next Web, the digitized photograph of Lenna it was used as an image for tests both in the Institute of Signal and Image Processing from where it arose as in other places. The list includes UCLA Image Communications Lab, Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, University of Waterloo Fractal Coding and Analysis Group, the University of Tennessee Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a long etcetera.

And the aforementioned doctoral thesis was not the only book with Lenna on the front page. It is curious how before the license existed CC0 which facilitates the dissemination of digital content, this license was already applied to use images without permission. That without counting the mentions and appearance of said photography in academic articles. The Next Web found in Google Scholar, the Google search engine specialized in academic content, more than 11,400 entries related to “Lena image” and 1,680 on “Lenna image”.

It was not until 1997 that Lena Forsén learned of her popularity. It was then that she was invited to the 50th edition of the Annual Conference of the Society of Science and Technology of the Image. Since then, from time to time the media has published an article recalling this curious anecdote from the history of the internet and digital imaging. And controversial aside, a young model became the muse of researchers in digital photography.