Compound Eye

Compound Eye

The many facets of science photography

The World’s Most Viewed Landscape, A Decade Later


Left: "Bliss", by Charles O'Rear (1996). Right: photo by Simon Goldin (2006), CC-By-SA-2.5. Click to enlarge.

Anyone who booted up a Windows computer in the early 2000's is likely familiar with the grassy hillsides and brilliant sky of "Bliss", a 1996 photograph by California wine country photographer Charles O'Rear. The image is precisely what a basic background should be: clean, bright, airy, inviting. Fittingly, "Bliss" lacks an immediate point of interest, so it fades into the back without distracting from the various files that inevitably accumulate on the desktop.

I lived in northern California at the time Windows XP was released, and the location obviously seemed from somewhere in the region. But I never knew exactly where it was, and I've occasionally wondered about the fate of that iconic landscape. By chance, while googling about this afternoon, I encountered a second photographer, Simon Goldin, who in 2006 re-visited the spot [location] and generously released the result under a Creative Commons license.

As we can see, the relaxing pastoral grasslands have been converted to grape production and the clean horizon is now broken by a stand of introduced Eucalyptus. Given California's intense development and agriculture pressures, this environmental degradation isn't surprising.

The image sparked inevitable chat room debates over whether Microsoft had photoshopped or computer generated a fantasy landscape, but in some respects that's now a moot point. While the most famous computer wallpaper of all time may once have depicted a real place, the rolling green hills now exist only as a memory.

(via Napa Valley Register)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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