Behind the Photo: Bliss



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.

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.




Quick Tip: A Matter of Perspective

I’d like to share a series of photos that appear in my Twitter feed every so often with the heading “You won’t believe these aren’t Photoshopped!’, or something of that nature. The title has always bothered me a little, because, yes, I can believe it. I usually just roll my eyes and look at the images because I love these types of photos. I am usually not a fan of staged photos but I admire the imagination and simplicity of these. Perhaps you’ve seen them too:


I think what I admire the most about these images is the simplicity and imagination that went into creating them. Too often we forget that we can tilt the camera. There’s probably a few of you out there that don’t even shoot the camera in Portrait view often enough. Pay attention. It can change a boring image into a keeper. Here’s one I took with my iPhone while visiting San Francisco a couple of years ago:


You’re limited only by your imagination. Cliche, yes, but when you look at these examples, don’t you ask yourself “Why didn’t I think of that?” Yeah, me too.



(If you enjoy thought provoking images such as these, Philippe Ramette is an artist that produces great surreal imagery.  ((The second photo in the series above and the two below are examples)). It’s worth your time to take a look at some of his work.)




That’s all for today, nothing too profound, just a little “brain tickle”.  As always, “Thank You” for reading. We’ll see you next time.


Have a great day. Now get out there and shoot.



Which of these photos sold for more than $3.5 million at auction?

Untitled #96
The Rhine II 1999 by Andreas Gursky born 1955
Rhein II

Actually, all 3 did.

Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled #96” fetched a cool  $3.89 million back in May of 2011. Later that year,  Andreas Gursky’s “Rhein II” received a record $4.3 million at a Christie’s auction. Not to be out-done, in 2014, Peter Lik’s “Phantom” sold for an amazing $6.5 million smackers, making it Officially the Most Expensive Photo Ever.

I originally intended the subject of today’s blog to be solely about the Rhein II photo. I remember reading about it when it made news back in 2011 and thought I’d share my opinion of that photo. I’ll save that harangue for a later date.

Out of the three million dollar + photos shown, Phantom is the only one that appeals to me, while the other two, well, not so much. In my opinion, none of the three are worth the price tag they fetched at auction. But hey, that’s Art. Sometimes there’s no accounting for taste.

The Rhein II photo reminds me of an Art exhibit I attended a few years ago with a dear friend. The artist’s name is Wolfgang Laib. I’m going to refer to Wikipedia for an explanation, it seems they even have a hard time explaining Laib.

“Laib’s work is challenging to classify. It may be grouped with Land Art or Process Art, and he shows influences of Minimalism. Informed by the purity and simplicity of Eastern philosophies, he employs natural materials, most notably milk, pollen, beeswax, rice and marble. His works are more complex than being just about nature and the natural world. They involve ritual, repetition, process, and a demand for contemplation….”

Yellow Pollen

They go on-

“Laib is most well known for his use of large quantities of intense, yellow pollen. A slow and deliberate process, the artist collects the pollen from around his home in southern Germany during the spring and summer months. Working with the natural sequence of the seasons, he harvests the pollen on each tree or flower when it is in bloom, beginning with hazelnut, moving on to dandelion and other flowers, and finally ending with pine. Each type of pollen is unique in color and size. Laib exhibits the pollen in a variety of ways, most famously sifted on a stone or concrete floor, creating a field of brilliantly hued pollen. Final sizes are determined by the abundance of the pollen itself; with pine being more plentiful, therefore creating larger sifted areas. The pollen is also exhibited in glass jars or small piles. In addition, the pollen is sold to collectors and institutions in glass jars, without any stipulations as to how it should be exhibited. For Laib, the pollen is the artwork, not the process of collecting it or presenting it sifted on the floor or in jars.”

Yes, this is an empty room with yellow pollen.

I think I have a pretty good appreciation for Art. I realize that sometimes I will not understand it. I get that. We left the Laib exhibition almost in tears as we were laughing so hard. Years later when we talk, we still laugh about that day.

Is there a point to all of this?  Well, yes there is. Actually there are two:

  1. Don’t delete your photos. There are a few good reasons for this and it’s a subject on an upcoming blog. For now, trust me on this and don’t delete your photos that you don’t think are “good enough.”
  2. Show off your work.  Got an image you’re proud of? Show it to anyone that’ll look. Maybe you’ve got a couple you’re just not sure about. Especially show it. Get input. Ask friends, show it on Facebook or online message boards. Get constructive criticism. You’ll be surprised at how many times people will favor the one that’s not even your favorite. Just think of the $4.3 million Rhein II photo. A photo I would have just tossed away,  somebody paid millions for it. Like I said, sometimes, I just don’t get it. You never know when an image will captivate someone. It’s such a great feeling when it does. The next blog will elaborate more on this subject and the tragedy of keeping your work to yourself and not showing it to anyone.


Thank you for reading.



Yellow Pollen. Indeed.