Losing Lena: How Playboy Created the First Digital Icon

How did a charming photo for Playboy magazine in 1972 spiral out of control to become the world’s first ever looted digital icon? This is the backdrop of the documentary “Losing Lena”, to be seen on Facebook Watch.

Losing lena: how playboy created the first digital icon
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“I had never done a photo shoot before Playboy, or even after. I was very nervous, but the photographer really knew how to put me at ease. People were very proud of me I think. I think that everyone thought the photos were good. Then I discovered that they were used all over the world” says Lena Sjooblom Söderberg.

Now in her seventies, the woman speaks with a soft voice in somewhat hesitant English. Not far from her, sits on her fireplace a small clock, which we guess is a gift, bearing this inscription: “First Lady of the Internet”dated 1997.

Thus begins the very interesting documentary Losing Lenaavailable for viewing on facebook watch. Unfortunately, it is reserved for the most English-speaking among you, since it is in original version without subtitles.

Here is the trailer…

Losing Lena from Losing Lena we Vimeo.

There is a secret behind almost all the photos found on the web and in image banks around the world. This secret is Lena, then a young Swedish student on vacation in Chicago, posing for the lens of a Playboy photographer, in 1972. A photo that will spiral out of control to be, for decades, “a face more analyzed than that of the Mona Lisa”and now known as the “original sin of the Tech industry”.

From charm icon to digital icon

How did the photo of a woman, who became a playmate for an issue of the famous charm magazine, in November 1972, become the most used test image in the world?

In 1973, Alexander Sawchuk, a scientist at the University of Southern California’s Institute of Signal and Image Processing, and his colleagues searched for a good and “original” image to scan for a conference paper. . The team is working hard on a future image format and algorithm, which will become the famous jpeg.

One of the team members just happens to hold the number of Playboy in which Lena is. Why not take this model? Cropping the central poster of the playmate at shoulder level, the most famous photo on the web has just been born. From scientific conferences to research publications, the photo is embraced by the scientific community and will now serve as the main test image.

Lena and the photographer having ceded the rights to the photo to Playboy, the magazine for its part renouncing legal proceedings, no doubt helped by the indirect publicity made by the photo, it thus escapes all control and all constraint. Found decades after the pose, Lena Sjooblom Söderberg is even invited to conferences on image processing. If she said she was flattered at the time, the spirit of the times has passed by: she now claims the right to be forgotten. But what does such a request weigh against the giants of Gafam?

gender stereotype

In fact, the starting question, that of the cliché and its future, is actually the beginning of a deeper reflection: the way the scientific community looks at women, their rejection and integration in an industry ultra dominated by the presence of men.

This is because, for a long time, women hardly had a voice in the world of High Tech research. The main reason for the small number of women in this industry is due to the lack of role models for women in the sector, and this is mainly due to the gender stereotype that men are better at science and math. Examples -brilliant- like Margaret Hamilton, director of the software engineering department within the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technologywhich designed the on-board system for the Apollo space program, were extremely rare.

Although the proportion of women wishing to make a career in this industry has obviously increased, there is still a lot of work to be done, as it still cultivates this image of “boys club”. According to Eurostat, for example, only 17% of women work in Europe in the STEM sector, an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. And in this already low figure, barely 5% of women occupy a leadership position in the sector…

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