Recognize this photo? It’s the default wallpaper for Microsoft Windows XP. Released in 2001, there were over 400 million copies in use as of January 2006 (not including pirated copies). Now imagine how many friends, family members, work colleagues and people using public workstations have no doubt used a computer or peered over someone’s shoulder with this very same desktop background.
It’s easy to assume that the image has been seen billions of times the world over. While many may have assumed this image was computer generated, or some kind of composite digital manipulation; it’s indeed a real location, shot by a real photographer who stakes his professional career that it wasn’t enhanced or manipulated.
The image is known as Bliss and was originally shot by Charles O’Rear in 1996. The location? Sonoma County, California, southeast of Sonoma Valley. O’Rear was en route to Marin when he decided to pull over to the shoulder of Highway 121. He took his medium format camera, slipped through a wire fence and took the shot.
Microsoft owns the picture outright and a non-disclosure agreement prohibits him from naming the exact figure, but O’Rear does say it was an ‘extraordinary’ amount and one of the largest amounts ever paid to a living, working photographer. He says at the time, it was second only to that paid to another living, working photographer of then-President Bill Clinton hugging Monica Lewinsky
The photograph above is what ‘Bliss’ looks like today (shot in 2006 by Simon Goldin). The field is now a vineyard. If you’re curious, you can even see the exact location on Google Maps with the following coordinates: 38.250124,-122.410817
It’s interesting to see how this photo of happenstance is O’Rear’s most famous. He spent 25 years travelling the world shooting for National Geographic, he has nine books on classic wine photography to his credit, yet it’s this landscape photograph that is undoubtedly one of the most famous photographs in the world.