The standard Windows wallpaper of Windows XP called Bliss is without a doubt the most distributed and most viewed photograph ever.
‘Bliss’, default windows wallpaper of Windows XP. Photographer: Charles O’Rear
The name of the photo is Bliss, however Dutch users of XP may have noticed that the Windows wallpaper is called ‘Ierland’ in their version. Understandably, we have since then come to see this as a typical Irish landscape.
You have probably never given it a second thought, but this photo has a maker. His name is Charles O’Rear, an Irish name confirming our assumption the photo was taken in Ireland.
Charles O’Rear took this picture 1996 and sold it a couple of years later to Corbis, the stock photo company owned by Microsoft. I could not find out how much he was paid for it, but I doubt if it was more than a couple of hundred dollars. Too bad for him, because had he entered a royalty-deal of one 1 cent per sold XP-license, his bank account would now show a figure of at least 4 million dollar.
However. This photo was not taken in Ireland, but in Napa Valley, California, USA, not far from O’Rear’s residence. And indeed, as it now begins to dawn on us, ignorance is bliss, O’Rear is not an Irishman, O’Rear is a born American.
Once I found that out, I became curious about what we are really looking at in this picture and what the photographer saw around him. My idyllic idea about this place was that he could have pointed his camera in any direction and still get the same picture. I have lived in the west of Ireland for two years myself and where I lived this actually was the case – except maybe for the fact that the skies were grey more often than blue.
But this illusion was shattered too. In the first place by the picture below, made by the artist collective Goldin+Senneby in January of 2006, form the exacgt same point of view as O’Rear. Not only the weather conditions were quite different from the original photo. The soil had been cutivated and was turned into a vineyard. Quite appropriate, considering that O’Rear made his living primarily out of photobooks on wine.
After Microsoft. Remake of Bliss in 2006, by Goldin+Senneby
That left me with one question. How does the rest of the scenery in this place actually look? What do we see left and right of the photographer, and behind him?
Google Streetview brings us the answers. Below are four pictures taken by Nine Eyes, the camera on top of the Google cars that collect streetviews. This camera rises high above the care, giving a total different angle of the scenery in front of us. And the rest of the scenery is, well, less blissful than I thought it would be.
By the way, the coordinates of this place are 38.248966, -122.410269. In case you ant to have a look for yourself.
Bliss by Google Streetview
Bliss. What the photographer saw at his right hand side.
Bliss. What the photographer saw to his left.
Bliss. What could be seen behind the photographer.
Update August 29, 2011: turns out the photographer actually did earn a nice sum with the photo. Read all about it on NapaValleyRegister.com.
Note: This post about the most viewed photo ever was originally published on August 27, 2011 on the Dutch photography blog Picture This. The post was much quoted, shared and linked to. Nowadays, Bliss has its own entry in Wikipedia. It is still a fascinating story so we republished the blog post on Piles of Pics in May 2017.