Behind the Photo: Bliss

bliss
©Microsoft

 

Chances are that if you’ve spent anytime in front of a computer, you’ll immediately recognize the image from the days of Windows XP. It’s estimated that over a billion people have viewed this image but chances are very few know the origins of it. Widely believed to be a Photoshop generated image, it is in fact, an authentic photo.

In January 1996, photographer Charles O’Rear was driving from his home in Northern California, through the Napa Valley to visit his girlfriend. They had been working on a book together about the wine country and O’Rear was on the lookout for photo opportunities to use in the book.  While driving down the Sonoma Highway, he noticed the hill which was void of the vineyards that normally cover it. They were apparently removed several years earlier due to a phylloxera infestation. O’Rear recalls thinking “There it was! My God, the grass is perfect! It’s green! The sun is out; there’s some clouds” He took four shots and got back in his truck and left.

Not using it in his wine country book, he decided to place the photo on Corbis, a stock photo service, and list it as available for use by anyone willing to pay the licensing fee.  O’Rear was contacted sometime in 2000-2001 by the Microsoft XP development team not wanting to just license the photo but to purchase the complete rights to the image. They offered him what was said to be the second highest single payment ever paid to a photographer for his image. He had to sign a confidentiality agreement and could not disclose the amount. It’s been reported to be somewhere in “the low six figures”.

He was to sign the paperwork and send the image to Microsoft, but delivery services declined to ship the package because their insurance would not cover the value of the contents. Microsoft would pay for his plane ticket and he personally delivered the product to them.

Microsoft gave the image the name “Bliss” and it would become the central part of their XP marketing campaign. O’Rear has said that the image was not enhanced or manipulated. Microsoft states that they added a little more saturation to the grass and cropped the photo slightly to the left to better fit the desktop.

Charles O’Rear says he’s amazed at some of the places he’s seen the photo. On News reports form the Kremlin, to the White House, and while on vacation in Thailand “walking in this little village looking for a place to eat, and there it was in a window … I think every corner of the globe, every culture, every country, has been exposed to it.”

Over the next 10 years, it’s been said that Bliss was the most viewed photograph in the world. Now there are grapevines growing on the hill again making the image impossible to duplicate, for now anyway. Attempts have been made to reproduce the image, with at least one of them, by Goldin+Senneby, appearing in art galleries.

blisssxs
Attempts have been made to reproduce the image, with at least one of them, by Goldin+Senneby (right), appearing in art galleries.

 

So there you have it. The story of Bliss. I suppose there are a multitude of lessons one can take away from this story but my motive was really quite simple. With all that’s going on in the world right now, I just wanted to share a great story with a happy ending. Sometimes we need one of those.

 

Have a great Wednesday.

 

 

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