A brief History of Photography by Objects – 5 – Photograph of Newborn Baby 1997

This pixelated photograph from an early consumer digital camera might seem an  odd inclusion. Babies have been stable subjects for photographs from the days of the Daguerreotype. By 1997 although not fully mainstream, digital cameras were starting to gain a foothold and this won’t have been the first digital photo of a baby by a long shot. But Time rightly recognised this as one of the most influential photographs ever taken.

That’s not because of the subject or the camera. It was down to what happened to the image next.

Sonia Kahn  went into what turned out to be an 18 hour labour, her husband dutifully grabbed his camera to capture their newborn daughter. The difference was Sonia’s husband was Philippe Kahn and the 18 hour labour gave him the chance to come up with a revolutionary approach to what we do with photos.

Philippe Kahn was already a legendary figure in the IT world. As a student he’d written software for arguably the first microprocessor computer the Micral. Later he’d co-founded Borland famed for Turbo Pascal.

Kahn had taken a Casio QV-10 along with him.

Casio QV-10
Casio QV-10. Taken by Noische. Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

The QV-10 is an important milestone of digital camera evolution. It was not the first consumer digital but was the first with a LCD screen that doubled both as viewfinder and playback. I use the word consumer lightly with a launch price in 1995 of ¥65,000 – (almost $1000USD in today). With a 0.25MP CCD sensor it was pretty basic stuff by today’s standards.

Now Kahn was keen to share shots of his new born child. Back then most tech-minded folk would have later on hooked the camera up to their PC and emailed the image out. But Kahn had twigged there was a more instant way…..

As well as the camera, he’d taken his laptop and a motorola StarTAC flip mobile. Kahn realised if he could link his camera and phone to his laptop, he could send the photo to his home server and from there distribute it to the world.

Connecting the camera was no problem but the mobile wasn’t designed to be hooked up to a computer. In a moment a brilliance he realised he could jury rig the  car speaker phone kit to connect the phone to the PC. Problem was it was in of  course the car ! Sonia actually gave him permission to run down and get it. Some tweaking and he’d got things set up just in time to catch his daughter Sophie’s arrival.

Kahn uploaded the photo to his server. Then he was able to send a link to it out to family and friends.  Although crudely done,  this is the first image that instantly shared via a mobile phone. That’s now just second nature to us.

Kahn realised the potential of combining a simple CMOS based camera module into a mobile phone  that would allow folk to share photos from one device. His  prototype was short-shortsightedly rejected by Kodak and Polaroid as being a no-goer. However in Japan they took more notice.  In 2000 Sharp took this concept and made J-phone. This  not only allowed you to take phones but share them with other J-phone users. Within a few years having a camera phone was de rigeur 

A short with re-enactment of what happened in Santa Cruz in 1997 was shot last year.

1997: Birth of the Camera Phone from Conscious Minds on Vimeo.


More info

The original photo was released to Public Domain by Kahn as described here

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