By Patricia Daukantas
You’ve seen her portrait: the doelike eyes, the Mona Lisa smile, the jaunty feathered hat tipping down over a bare shoulder. Since the early days of computer networks, her image has become one of the standards for image calibration, manipulation and transmission within the optical imaging community. Her portrait has graced hundreds of image-processing papers over the past 36 years and will doubtless contribute to many more. But who is she, and where did she come from?
Her name is Lena Sjööblom Söderberg, and today is her 57th birthday. The head-and-shoulders portrait of Lena (sometimes spelled “Lenna” in English) is cropped from a far more revealing image in the November 1972 issue of Playboy magazine. Researchers at the University of Southern California created a digital file of the picture as an alternative to the more boring test patterns of the era. As the former editor-in-chief of an IEEE journal once noted, the photo has a good mix of details for testing image-processing algorithms – and her face had a certain appeal to the then-mostly-male research community.
It took many years for Lena to learn that her face had helped bring about the JPEG and MPEG standards and other imaging technology that we take for granted today. Since her days of modeling in Chicago, she returned to her native Sweden, married and had three children. Various Internet sources have her working either for the Swedish national liquor monopoly or as a teacher of computer skills to adults with disabilities. According to one of Lena's fans at Carnegie Mellon University, she was a special guest at a 1997 conference of the Society for Imaging Science and Technology.
2008-03 March, Optics and pop culture