Friday 20 April 2018

How the first photo was posted on the Web 20 years ago

This image of the Les Horribles Cernettes was the first picture to be posted on the World Wide Web: From left: Angela Higney, Michele de Gennaro, Colette Marx-Neilsen, Lynn Veronneau
This image of the Les Horribles Cernettes was the first picture to be posted on the World Wide Web: From left: Angela Higney, Michele de Gennaro, Colette Marx-Neilsen, Lynn Veronneau

Andrew Hough

A BRITISH singer with a CERN laboratory music group appears in the first picture posted to the World Wide Web (WWW) two decades ago, it has emerged.

Colette Marx-Nielsen, 50, performed with the Les Horribles Cernettes (LHC), an all-female parody comedy group, based at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research centre, in Switzerland.

Mrs Marx-Nielsen, originally from Glasgow who is now living in the south of France, was one of four singers who posed for the extraordinary image, which became the first ever picture uploaded to the Web.

The remarkable picture was taken on July 18, 1992, by Silvano de Gennaro, an IT developer at CERN and was posted by his then colleague, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the British computer scientist who created the World Wide Web.

The "promotional" shot, taken at the Hardronic Music Festival – an annual “rock festival” held at a music club within the Geneva-based laboratory – shows the group posing in 1950s style costumes just before they walked out on stage.

Speaking on Tuesday on the eve of its 20th anniversary, Mrs Marx-Nielsen, now a voice teacher based in Beausoleil, said that despite the photo’s history, some friends have failed to realise its significance.

“I kinda put it out sometimes and say, ‘well, I’m in the first photograph on the World Wide Web’ (but) people don’t really care,” the former Colette Reilly told Motherboard, a New York-based online magazine website.

“I suppose it had to be somebody and it just happened to be us.”

Mr de Gennaro, now the head of multimedia productions at CERN, told the website that he had been waiting backstage with the “Cernettes”, whom he managed and whose songs he wrote.

Wanting a picture for a CD cover, he asked the four ladies to “lean in and smile” and took the picture on his Canon EOS 650.

“When history happens, you don’t know that you’re in it,” said Mr de Gennaro, who is due to shortly retire and move to Mauritius.

Sir Tim, who became friends with his colleague after they discovered a shared love of drama, approached de Gennaro for a “guinea-pig image” which he could use to test his recent upgrades to the web.

Mr de Gennaro said he had been experimenting with a “scanned .gif version” of the photo using version one of Photoshop on his colour Apple Mac.

The format was half a decade old but he said its “efficient compression” was the best way to edit colour images without affecting his computer.

He added to the website: “The web, back in ’92 and ’93, was exclusively used by physicists.

“I was like, ‘why do you want to put the Cernettes on that? It’s only text!’ And he (Sir Tim) said, ‘no, it’s gonna be fun’.”

Sir Tim, who would become a “big fan” of the group, passed the file to Jean-François Groff, a programmer on the web project.

It was slightly altered, with a pale blue background superimposed, and was later uploaded without any problems before being posted on a page about the musical acts at CERN.

Some experts have pointed out the image was "born with some original sins that have never quite washed away" such as poor photo-shopping and a “sex sells” pose.

Mr de Gennaro said his computer “died around 1998”, which also destroyed the original version of the file.

The “Cernettes” was founded in 1990 by Mr de Gennaro’s then girlfriend Michele – now his wife – and also claims to be the “first band on the web”.

Mrs de Gennaro, then a CERN graphic designer, has said she was “tired of waiting day and night for her permanently-on-shift physicist boyfriend” and started singing about her “lonely nights”.

The group, which later comprised of other scientists, assistants and girlfriends of CERN officials, mostly sang about physics while has performed at international physics conferences and even the “World'92” Expo in Seville, Spain.

The group’s initials, LHC, would become the same as those of the Large Hadron Collider, which was later built at the laboratory.

The “Cernettes” will perform for the last time this weekend but Mr de Gennaro said it was unclear if the band would mention the photo onstage.

He said the image’s “minor fame” had somewhat detracted from the group’s music.

Last week, a team of physicists at the Cern laboratory used LHC, a £6 billion piece of equipment designed to uncover the secrets of the universe, to confirm they had discovered a new particle bearing the hallmarks of a Higgs boson.

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