Inventor Portrait: Steven Sasson

April 11, 2011

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted one of these. This is my portrait of Steven Sasson, inventor of the digital camera. He was the 32nd inventor in my project. I shot him in October at Kodak’s headquarters in Rochester, just a couple weeks before President Obama awarded him the National Medal of Technology.


When he initially mentioned that the first digital camera held 30 pictures, I assumed that was due to the storage capacity of the digital tape. It was really interesting to hear that he picked 30 as an artificial limitation, and his explanation why.

Here are a couple photos from our shoot, as seen in the video:

Steven Sasson

Steven Sasson

Update: A few people have commented on the upholstery, so I thought I’d expound on that a little bit:

The only room made available to me for shooting at Kodak was the lobby, which wasn’t very inspiring. I talked my way into getting one more room to look at, a conference room that had slightly more visual interest: there were some cameras scattered around in displays, a conference table, a giant pot with huge sunflowers, and a few chairs. I tried to find a way to shoot in there that didn’t scream “conference room” and that probably hadn’t been done already, since I know they’ve used that room for media before. As soon as I saw this chair parked near a coffee table, I knew I had to use it. The pattern immediately reminded me of the Bayer pattern used in modern digital sensors. (It’s the checkerboard-like arrangement of red, green, and blue receptors — do a Google image search for “Bayer pattern” and you’ll see what I mean). I figured that most people wouldn’t notice the connection — Steve said he’d never heard anyone point it out before — but to me it was as relevant a prop as if I’d picked it out myself for the shoot because it speaks directly to the invention. Now every time I see it, I smile and wonder if there are any other people out there who see the connection, too. I think of it as a subtle inside joke for technically minded.

24 Comments

Wonderful subject. That upholstery is amusingly appropriate.

I almost feel bad for Kodak.

Their market cap has been sliding in concert with consumer adoption of digital cameras. Sad, given the history of their R&D.

It would have been nice if a picture made with the camera were included with the article.

Bert

Thumbs up! I expected this kind of inventor to be on the decrepit side, considering the age of the technology, but he seems healthy and hale. Loving your portrait series, so far.

I came across your blog via Twitter. Really enjoyed this video. Very interesting point made by Steven Sasson about why he picked 30.

I already stumbled across the picture of that first digital camera, but it's great to hear the poin t view of the inventor himself ! Amazing

@PJ Doland

Kodak had an industry leading position in digital sensors and squibbed it. From what I know of the situation it was a case of internal politics.

Kodak saw the writing on the wall for it's film processing profits (rivers of gold) before anybody and got behind Sasson and his team and the execs in charge of them. If the industry was going to change they were going to be at the forefront of the change. For whatever reason the digital consumer products division went from a market leading position (market share and advanced technology) to an also ran. Someone above the team but inside Kodak killed the goose. Would make a good graduate study paper for somebody oneday.

Nice post. I agree with PJ Doland about Kodak's market share is declining. A lot of the big photography stores are going out of business and only some of the established mom and pop stores are surviving.

Those cables look almost new

Hi!

I really love your Inventor videos. Mainly because they are photographically beautiful. You really know how to light for both stills and moving picture. Nice work!

Nicely done, Mr. Friedman. I worked with Kodak through the nineties, in fact developed ad campaigns for their first forays into digital.
As Alastair points out, the company was riven into two camps: Film, the much, much larger of the two, lumbering and arrogant, filled with lifelong Kodakers; and Digital, still somewhat dysfunctional but comparably more nimble, whose ranks were peppered with outsiders from places like HP and Sony.
Freaked out by the new technology (Kodak had dominated picture taking for decades pushing the exact same tech), the Film camp freaked, wielding its influence to crush early efforts to establish Digital as a real business unit. In fact, I remember as an ad copywriter in the mid-nineties coming across an unbelievable trove of insight and knowledge, the work of Kodak R&D. (No doubt much of it by Mr. Sasson).
Kodak invented digital photography! Every competitor was using their research and patents! I naively thought that this would form the basis for their first great, world-changing, revolutionary campaign for digital. But, no. It would be political suicide, I was told, the Film people would never sign off on it.
The rest, as they say, is a history of a sadly decaying, money hemorrhaging brand.

I like your Inventors series very much so far. I am looking forward to more videos form you. How do you pick which inventor gets to have a portrait made about him? Is there a key to your choice?

Yes, like Bert said--I'd love to see a photo taken by this camera!

Thanks for all!!!

You should have seen the lobby and rec building 20 years ago... a real shame what's happened to this company and the effect it has had on the city of Rochester, NY. At least here Mr. Sasson is finally getting some of the attention he should.

Nice time estimate--1978+16 years is 1994, the year Apple launched the QuickTake.

Thanks for all of this... Very useful information for history study about photography. THANK!!!

Nice work-really like your inventor series! Check out our Facebook page and get to know get to know past and present nominees of our European Inventor Award. http://www.facebook.com/europeaninventoraward

The movie doesn't play under Chrome 10.0.648.205 on WinXp SP3.

Jon

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.nicolae

Great read.

Great article.

This is an excellent post that you shared to us.
Its like when I viewed this website of you and it seemed like I met for the first time the inventor of digital camera and it feels great that its like that I met the inventor of the digital camera that almost all of us had been using.And it really made a big help to all of us...Thanks for sharing.More power!

No.

Steve Sasson did NOT invent the first (solid state)digital camera. It was invented by Mike Tomsett of Bell Labs, who built the first digital imager, using the CCD, also invented at Bell Labs, and integrated it into a camera.

Sasson improved on Tomsett's invention and patented the improvements.

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/10/nj_inventors_hall_of_fame_to_h.html