All Electrical Engineering students at some point have seen this image in their Image Processing textbooks.
I had always wondered who this lady was, and how did she enter these image processing texts. She did not seem to be an Engineer by any yardstick ;-) This picture has been used as a test image by most image processing students and researchers, in all sorts of image processing algorithms such as de-noising, compression etc. I was always amazed with the usage of this particular image. A friend of mine, a non-engineer was surprised to see the image in a text, and she remarked “Is this an excuse for geeks to have pictures of pretty ladies in their books? “.
I first came across this image in the textbook authored by Gonzalez and Woods. I decided to find out for myself who this was. I actually thought maybe (just maybe) it was a generated image? but then ruled that out as a possibility in view of the degree of “real-ness” of this image.
Searching for the Lena image was a bit difficult initially as i had no real key-words for it. However some months back i did discover the image with the string “Lena” below it. That was it! I Googled it and found out that that image was actually very famous, that it had a wikipedia entry, and there had been discussions on the image and its source at length. It was a Swedish model by the name of Lena Söderberg who had posed for the 1972 November Playboy edition, and the image was a cropped version of the same.
And Lena has many fans. Here is a rather funny poem on the image.
Sonnet for Lena
O dear Lena, your beauty is so vast
It is hard sometimes to describe it fast.
I thought the entire world I would impress
If only your portrait I could compress.
Alas! First when I tried to use VQ
I found that your cheeks belong to only you.
Your silky hair contains a thousand lines
Hard to match with sums of discrete cosines.
And for your lips, sensual and tactual
Thirteen Crays found not the proper fractal.
And while these setbacks are all quite severe
I might have fixed them with hacks here or there
But when filters took sparkle from your eyes
I said, “Fuck this shit. I’ll just digitize.
by Thomas C
Reading on Lena (I mean the test image) was amusing.
Jamie Hutchinson in an article in the May 2001 newsletter of the IEEE professional Communications Society writes about the pictures history.
Alexander Sawchuk estimates that it was in June or July of 1973 when he, then an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the University of Southern California Signal and Image Processing Institute (SIPI), along with a graduate student and the SIPI lab manager, was hurriedly searching the lab for a good image to scan for a colleague’s conference paper. They got tired of their stock of usual test images, dull stuff dating back to television standards work in the early 1960s. They wanted something glossy to ensure good output dynamic range, and they wanted a human face. Just then, somebody happened to walk in with a recent issue of Playboy.
The engineers tore away the top third of the centerfold so they could wrap it around the drum of their Muirhead wirephoto scanner, which they had outfitted with analog-to-digital converters (one each for the red, green, and blue channels) and a Hewlett Packard 2100 minicomputer. The Muirhead had a fixed resolution of 100 lines per inch and the engineers wanted a 512 × 512 image, so they limited the scan to the top 5.12 inches of the picture, effectively cropping it at the subject’s shoulders.
A more amazingly amusing account that even discusses the debate regarding the picture can be found on the page of DAVID C. MUNSON, JR. of the CMU here.
An excerpt from his writing.
I think it is safe to assume that the Lena image became a standard in our “industry” for two reasons. First, the image contains a nice mixture of detail, flat regions, shading, and texture that do a good job of testing various image processing algorithms. It is a good test image! Second, the Lena image is a picture of an attractive woman. It is not surprising that the (mostly male) image processing research community gravitated toward an image that they found attractive. The Woody Allen buffs among you may be interested to know that the Lena image appeared in the movie Sleeper. Tom Huang pointed this out to me. In the scene where Allen awakes in the year 2173, he is asked to identify a number of artifacts from the past, including photographs of Joseph Stalin and Charles de Gaulle, and the issue of Playboy Magazine containing Lena.
and regarding the debate he writes:
Well, quite understandably, some members of our community are unhappy with the source of the Lena image. I am sympathetic to their argument, which states that we should not use material from any publication that is seen (by some) as being degrading to women. I must tell you, though, that within any single segment of our community (e.g., men, women, feminists), there is a complete diversity of opinion on the Lena issue. You may be surprised to know that most persons who have approached me on this issue are male. On the other hand, some informal polling on my part suggests that most males are not even aware of the origin of the Lena image! I have heard feminists argue that the image should be retired. However, I just recently corresponded with a feminist who had a different point of view. She was familiar with the Lena image, but she had not imagined that there could be any controversy. When I offered an explanation of why some persons are offended by the use of the image. she responded tartly. A watered-down version of her reply is, “There isn’t much of Lena showing in the Lena image. This political correctness stuff infuriates me!”
A very amusing story, i had never imagined that that one picture in an image processing text-book would have such a big history!