Windows XP background is photo of Sonoma hillside

If you?re looking for Bliss, it?s private property, no trespassing. But Bliss is clearly visible behind barbed wire, just off Highway 121 in Sonoma County.
April 7, 2014 10:33:13 PM PDT
If you're looking for Bliss, it's on private property, but it's clearly visible just off Highway 121 in Sonoma County.

Chuck O'Rear is neither the Pope nor the Dali Lami, but without question, he's the world's foremost expert on Bliss.

Back when he drove this road in 1998, Bliss was elusive for him, too.

"I was sort of looking for it, but I didn't know where to find it," he said.

O'Rear knew he liked Northern California's green hills, blue sky, and white clouds, so he got out of his car and went for a walk that beautiful day.

"A storm had just passed through," he recalled.

Since O'Rear is a photographer, he raised his camera to take four pictures. You might recognize one of them.

"I had no idea it would become the most recognized photograph on the planet," O'Rear said.

That's what happens when Microsoft buys one of your photos, names it, 'Bliss,' and makes it the default for Windows XP.

"We're guessing billions of people have seen it because it's on 500 million XP programs," O'Rear said.

O'Rear will not say how much Microsoft paid him for the transparency, only, "It's the most I ever received for a photograph."

And yet, Bliss occupies only a small piece of wall in a side room of O'Rear's home in St. Helena.

"Oh, there are so many other wonderful pictures," his wife Daphne said. She's proud of his two cover photos earned in 25 years with National Geographic.

She's proud of the coffee table books they have produced about wine. And yet, "His legend will be that one photograph. It's strange. Really strange."

Except that Bliss is an icon -- a simple and untouched photograph that has become iconic, like a modern day version of Ansel Adams' moon rising over Yosemite's Half Dome.

In short, O'Rear hit the lottery. Twice, actually, because the woman he was driving to see that day, Daphne Larkin, later became his wife.

But if you were to visit Bliss today, you will find those grassy hills replaced by vines and industrial tractors.

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