Keep It Clean

James Vincent, London Review of Books:

The ascendancy of Lena in image processing is, then, the result of the usual mix of impromptu decision-making and post-hoc justification that underlies a surprising amount of scientific work. But it is also an example of the way that specific entities used to simplify the production of technical knowledge are revealing of the world that has selected them. The use of the Lena image over decades has contributed to the casual misogyny of the male-dominated field of computer science, a world in which the surveillance and appraisal of women is so ordinary as to make erotic images interchangeable with wildlife photography. Objects such as these are what Dylan Mulvin, a historian of media and technology, calls ‘proxies’. The influence of such proxies, he shows, is sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious, but invariably underexamined. […]

A thoughtful exploration of how the development of things we think of as standards often relies, even to this day, on bias and assumption.