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Obama honors inventor of digital camera
The camera was an afterthought, a "filler project" Sasson was asked to look into when not working on his main assignment of building a lens-cleaning machine. Its first image was an impromptu snapshot of a lab technician from down the hall. When it appeared on the television screen a minute later, the white office walls showed up, and so did the technician's black hair. Her face, her clothes and everything else were a muted swamp of gray. The technician looked at the historic photograph of herself on the screen and shrugged. "Needs work," she told him.
A patent was filed, received, expired, forgotten. In a pre-laptop, pre-cellphone age, a digital camera was before its time, as if, in 2010, a teleporter suddenly fell from the sky. Thank you, Scotty, but without your control panel to beam us anywhere, we're all sort of twiddling our thumbs.
"But when you're inventing, the whole world's inventing with you," Sasson says. Along came the computers, the PDAs, the e-mail. In the late 1990s Sasson took a vacation to Yellowstone with his wife and watched as the tourists around him whipped out their cameras to capture Old Faithful. He noticed that a good portion of them were digital, and he whispered to his wife, "It's happening!"
She didn't know what he was talking about. He'd never thought to tell her that he was responsible for it all.
There used to be longer breaks between "then" and "now." Film was stored in freezers, lost in car consoles, dropped off at the Walgreens and picked up weeks later. The pictures came back and some of the faces were already unfamiliar, and why didn't anyone tell you how unflattering those capri pants were?
Now history happens immediately. Teenage girls snap photos of themselves, then check their lipstick in the preview window. No one's eyes are ever closed in the final cut; everyone's red eye is Photoshopped and color-corrected. Precious moments are not doled out by the frame, as if each event contained only 24 memories, 25 if there was an extra exposure (Let's get one more with just Mom and Hannah), but rather heaped on by the megapixel.
We have become atrocious editors, greedily sweeping everything onto our memory cards rather than carefully selecting the tasty bits, but meanwhile we have also become connoisseurs of the mundane, appreciating the table scraps that would have previously been dismissed.
Images of puppies and birthday parties and weddings are sent in a flash.
Perez Hilton has a job.
"For most of the 20th century, life was about high-quality events," Sasson says, in wonder. "But now photography has become a casual form of conversation, a vehicle to share what happened."
His letters of recommendation for the award came from such disparate sources as the president and CEO of the National Geographic Society, the chief technology officer of eBay, and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y), who credited Sasson's invention with being "critical to the well-being of my constituents in Upstate New York."
Last week's White House ceremony was a mostly solemn event, as President Obama praised the recipients' "willingness to give of themselves and to sacrifice in order to expand the reach of human understanding."
But as he draped the gold-colored medal over Sasson's neck, accompanied by a chorus of hundreds of clicking point-'n'-shoots, he turned to the audience and their sea of cameras held aloft like torches, the president interrupted the proceedings to smile:
"These pictures better be good."