Some photographs are so ubiquitous that it’s hard to imagine they were taken by a regular, boring old human being before being used in product designs or advertising campaigns so huge that they’re impossible to avoid. One of these photos is the default background for Windows XP—a picture of a lush green hill and pleasant blue sky taken on what looks like a pleasant summer day. As it turns out, this picture (titled “Bliss”) was taken by a normal guy who just happened to think a pretty hill in Sonama, California was worth capturing on camera.
SFGATE tracked down Charles O’Rear, the photographer in question, to ask him about what it’s like to be responsible for such a well-known image—and to provide a fairly depressing update on what the scenic green hill looks like now. O’Rear says he would drive past the hill regularly in the mid-’90s while visiting the woman who’s now his wife. He worked as a photographer, shooting for newspapers and National Geographic, but knows he’ll be remembered for the picture he took one Friday afternoon in 1996 that spent a few years as part of a stock photo gallery before being bought by Microsoft for “an undisclosed-but-exorbitant sum.”
“Bliss” looks so idyllic (or, we suppose, blissful) that O’Rear says “a majority of people who saw” it didn’t think it was even real. But it is. O’Rear knew that the hill often looked wonderful in January and took the picture then, capturing a view that looks almost too perfect to exist. For those hoping to lay a USB key filled with late ‘90s Limewire downloads in homage to the hills, though, the article describes it now as home to “a piercing loud two-lane highway” and “endless rows of wine grapes”—not “a great place to stop and admire anything.”
Oh, and O’Rear “doesn’t use Windows and hasn’t for a long time.” He prefers Apple computers.
Check out the entire SFGATE story for more on O’Rear, “Bliss,” and photos showing what the spot in Sonama looks like now.
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