THE SEARCH FOR LENA

Discovering one Playmate's role in the history of the Internet


lena I
n the course of his work as a publicist for producers of imaging systems, Jeff Seideman frequently found himself face to face with the same woman everywhere he went.

"Over the years I would go into these engineering and research labs and see these images of this woman all over the place," Seideman recalls. "I would ask who she was and they would say, 'She's Lena.' And I would say, 'Who's Lena?' And they'd say, 'I don't know. Just Lena.'"

"Just Lena," Seideman soon found out, was Lena Sjööblom, Playboy's Miss November 1972. In the early Seventies, an unknown researcher at the University of Southern California working on compression technologies scanned in the image of Lena's centerfold. Since that time, images of the Playmate have been used as the industry standard for testing ways in which pictures can be manipulated and transmitted electronically. Over the past 25 years, no image has been more important in the history of imaging and electronic communications, and today the mysterious Lena is considered the First Lady of the Internet.

"The use of her photo is clearly one of the most important events in the history of electronic imaging," Seideman said. Image compression is what has made the World Wide Web the wildly popular communications medium it is today.

When it came time to plan for the 50th anniversary conference of the Society for Imaging Science and Technology (IS&T), Seideman, in his role as president of the Boston chapter of the IS&T, decided he wanted to commemorate the event by featuring highlights from the history of imaging technology. Nobody he talked to knew what had become of the First Lady of the Internet, so Seideman decided he would track down the elusive Lena.

"I emailed the Swedish members in our directory asking if they knew how to get in touch with her, and none did," Seideman said. "But then I got referred from one person to another and finally someone gave me her telephone number and address. I wrote her and asked if she would be willing to come to the conference, and she said yes."

Lena Soderberg, nee Sjööblom, now lives near Stockholm and works for a government agency supervising handicapped employees archiving data using, appropriately, computers and scanners. With the assistance of Playboy, Seideman arranged for Miss November 1972, The First Lady of the Internet, to appear at the IS&T Boston conference on May 20 and 21.

Seideman adds that over the years some researchers have complained that they lacked vital information about the Lena image, such as what type of scanner was originally used, what kind of camera and film. He says that he is working with Playboy's archivist to re-scan Lena's image and compile all the missing information, including everything from the type of photo emulsion used to make the print to the technical specifications of the scanner. In this way, Seideman says, the image of this Playboy Playmate can remain the standard reference image for comparing compression technologies into the 21st century.

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