Episode #6 of my story starting here.

At the end of the eighties, I wrote my first Digital Photography software. I was working with a Canon distributor, primarily for their printers, and they introduced us to an interesting device called iON. It was basically a small camcorder modified to only take stills, it was small, easy to carry around, everything a digital camera should be. Of course, because it really was a camcorder, the resolution wasn't great but it didn't matter because all you could really do was show your photos on TV: it wasn't even 1990 yet, displays were VGA ie 640x480x16colours and you would display photos in 256 colour mode (in 320x200, Mode X hadn't even been invented yet...). Even I who was lucky enough to own an IBM Professional Graphics Adapter, only had the luxury of 640x480 in 256 colours (from a meager set of 4096...), and don't go thinking of frames-per-second : it took tens of seconds to display a full screen image. But, hey, it wasn't even 1990 yet... There was no question though : digital photography was the future and it was time to jump on the bandwagon !

The first thing I did was make a program to print these photos on the few color printers of the time, using the old trusty Floyd-Steinberg error diffusion, it was quite a thing to see a photo coming out of an office printer ! And this led to the other thing: indexing.

The Phototèque software I wrote at the time, really was mostly a simple database system referencing files, sorting by time, place and keywords. The simple fact it could display and print images was a big thing. The most interesting feature, retrospectively, was the keyword system where users would only assign the most precise keywords they could think of, and group similar keywords later as the need would arise. This progressively created a tree, organically, as the collection grew. The strength of that system was in changing the problem from that of sorting hundreds of photos to that of sorting dozens of keywords. That observation is still valid today, with the only caveat that what I thought was a tree really is a graph.

We targeted a number of professions, starting from our existing customers doing Insurance Expertise as their reports require photos. We pitched the added value of photos to Real Estate agencies. We even talked to an art museum. But, hey, it wasn't even 1990, the quality wasn't there, the cost was over the roof and people could just not picture it yet... Definitely too early on this one.

I keep coming back to this topic, though, so it was never too early. Hardware evolves, we always have more storage, better displays, an absolutely amazing camera in our pocket at all times and the issue remains : looking for a specific photo isn't very much easier than when prints used to live in shoeboxes. This is actually the reason why I haven't taken much time to continue telling my story for a while, I have started coding again on this very topic and I'm quite excited with the results ! More about this in a few weeks, I hope...

Jérôme Muffat-Méridol
May 3, 2020