Stephanie Dick (Harvard), “Benchmarks and Bodies: The ‘Lena’ Image in Compression Studies”

Dick - Lena 4.2.04 (1)

[Standard image of Lena (here compressed from *.tiff to *.jpg) from the University of Southern California, Signal and Image Processing Institute database, for use in compression studies. The original image was created at SIPI in the spring of 1973, and is among the images they host for use by the community.]

This presentation explores the significance of visualization and benchmarking in image compression research — looking at how standard test images have shaped technical practice and standards of demonstration in the field.  I also reflect on the fact that one of the most used benchmarking images for experimentation and comparison with different compression techniques is a cropped and digitized copy of the Playboy centerfold from November 1972, of Swedish model Lena Söderberg. The image has been cited so many times that in the early 1990s Playboy Enterprise, Inc. dropped its pursuit of copyright violations for the image in computer science journals. The Lena image has become quite controversial within computer science, yet people continue to use it because it is an established standard that permits the comparison of algorithms without reimplementation of past work. I will give a history of the image, an account of the controversy, and an exploration of the benchmarking practices that surround its use.