In 1973, a group of researchers at the University of Southern California were looking for a test image for digital image compression research. To ensure good output dynamic range, they wanted something glossy–and they found their optimal choice in the centrefold of Playboy magazine’s November ’72 issue. Gracing the centrefold was a Swedish model Lena Söderberg, as photographed by Dwight Hooker. The researchers tore the top third of the centerfold and wrapped it around the photoscanner–since they wanted a 512 × 512 image (reproduced in the same scale above), the picture was conveniently cropped at the subject’s shoulders.
Thus ‘Lenna’ entered history (or nerddom). The image have since become the industry standard for testing ways in which pictures can be manipulated and transmitted electronically. It was transmitted over Arpanet, the precursor to the Internet. She came to be known as”The First Lady of the Internet” despite Playboy’s threats to sue for the unauthorized use. The magazine eventually decided not to sue, trying to exploit this phenomenon. (The November issue was coincidentall Playboy’s best selling issue ever and sold 7,161,561 copies.)
Independently, Woody Allen used the centerfold in his ’73 movie Sleeper ,where Allen’s character was accidentally cryogenically frozen, and he woke up to a disturbing bizarro world of 2173. A researcher showed Allen a set of photos and artifacts from our time to gain more insight into them, and Lena’s centerfold is one of those photos.
Until 2005, Lena, working with handicapped people in Sweden, was unaware of her fame. The original centerfold is here.