It was in 1996 when Charles O’Rear pull over to the shoulder of Highway 121 in Napa Valley when he noticed a beautiful scene. He took out his camera and slipped it through the wire fence to photograph a hillside. The end-product was a captivating sight of a blue sky covered in white clouds overlooking a bright green hillside. He then went home and uploaded the photo to his photo agent, Corbis.
Over twenty years later, it’s probably the most viewed photo in the world.
In 2002, Microsoft found O’Rear’s photo and decided to use it as the famed backdrop on their Windows XP computer operating system. Ever since, “Bliss” has been seen by billions of people around the world, in every culture, on probably every continent and nearly every country.
The Saint Helena based photographer has had about as great of a career as any photographer. He traveled world for 25 years as a photographer for National Geographic. He has nine books of wine photography to his credit, including his best-selling “Napa Valley, the Land, the Wine, the People.”
But his illustrious career always goes back to his famous unedited photo “Bliss,” which also makes him one of the highest paid photographers ever. Due to a non-disclosure agreement, he’s not allowed to say how much he was paid, saying only that it was “extraordinary.”
O’Rear is always delighted to see “Bliss” even when he travels the world. He saw it in a little village in Thailand a few years ago. He saw it in a TV interview with the president of Venezuela. He saw it in broadcasts from the Whitehouse. The photo even has its own Wikipedia page.
In 2012, David Clark of the British magazine Amateur Photographer, tried to understand exactly why the photo may have been chose by Microsoft:
“It’s attractive, easy on the eye and doesn’t detract from other items that might be on the screen are all contributing factors. It may also have been chosen because it’s an unusually inviting image of a verdant landscape and one that promotes a sense of wellbeing in desk-bound computer users.”
Today, grape vines cover the hillside, making it impossible for people to recreate the photo, although some have still tried. Like this photo of the location in 2006:
And this photo shows what the hillside looks like in 2017:
The photo has been called an iconic image comparable to Ansel Adams’ Monolith, the Face of Half Dome. That’s for the historians to decide. But what can be said unequivocally, is that many more people have seen “Bliss.”