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10th Jul 2024

Man who took ‘most viewed photo ever’ says he ‘just happened to be there at the right moment’

JOE

He stopped to take the snap on the way to see his girlfriend

The photographer behind the world’s “most-viewed” picture was on his way to visit his now-wife when he snapped the iconic image.

Rather than spending days, weeks, or even years trying to snap the perfect frame, Chuck O’Rear just happened to be at the right place at the right time.

In January 1996, O’Rear was on his way to see her partner, Daphne Larkin, driving from his home in St Helena, California, to her, in Marin County, when he spotted a scene he had to capture.

O’Rear, he told People, “always” carries a camera, because “you never know”, and on this day, the instinct paid off, in a really big way.

“I used to pull over often to take photos. I think the scenery there was so beautiful,” he recalled of the journey.

Speaking to Slate, O’Rear explained: “On this particular day in January, while driving this winding little — what I call a country road — there it was.

“[I thought] my God, the grass is perfect, it’s green, the sun is out, there’s some clouds.

“It could have been no clouds and by the time I parked, by the time I set my camera up, the clouds might have come in because everything changed so quickly at that point.

“So now I get the camera ready and here come the clouds and I make a frame, and I crank to the next one — which we don’t do digitally anymore — and it takes care of everything.”

His image, called ‘Bliss’, has a timeless quality, but if you were raised on MacBooks, rather than Microsoft products, you may be one of the few people to have not seen it.

The iconic Windows XP ‘Bliss’ background was a staple of office and computer room décor in the 2000s and was the default background for PCs running Windows XP for its run from 2001 to 2007.

The image is simple: Rolling green hills, bathed in light, with a smattering of clouds above.

The pic made powering-up a computer a little more serene of an experience.

While many may have instinctively believed the image, viewed by over one billion people was fake — or at least altered — it hasn’t been touched-up at all.

“When it’s on film, what you see is what you get,” O’Rear explained of the image, taken on a Mamiya RZ67 camera with colour Fuji Film and a tripod.

“There was nothing unusual. I used a film that had more brilliant colours, the Fuji Film at that time, and the lenses of the RZ67 were just remarkable.

“The size of the camera and film together made the difference and I think helped the Bliss photograph stand out even more. I think if I had shot it with 35 millimetre, it would not have nearly the same effect,” O’Rear says in a video for Microsoft, shot by cameraman Bar Leferink and directed by Marcel Buunk under company Shoot the Rabbit.

While the image was just another frame for O’Rear, it has become his favourite.

His wife joked: “Twenty-five years at Geographic and nobody ever gives a damn about that.”

O’Rear explains: “I get emails maybe every week or two, something related to the ‘Bliss’ photograph.

“When I die, although I won’t be buried, Daphne has said, on your tombstone, we’re not going to say National Geographic, we’re going to say ‘Photographer of Bliss’.”

Bliss ended up in the lap of Microsoft’s Bill Gates, after his Corbis group bought Westlight stock photo agency in 1998 – Westlight the agency the photographer originally submitted ‘Bliss’ to.

‘Bliss’ was reportedly purchased by Microsoft for a “low six-figure” sum of over $100,000, although the exact figure is unknown.

For O’Rear there is no escaping the ‘Bliss’ image: “No matter where we’ve been in the world – India, Thailand, Greece – that picture is always there, either on some old computer in an upscale hotel that hasn’t been updated in 30 years in the lobby the people are checking you in on, or, we saw that picture in billboards, airplanes, at airports,” O’Rear said.

“We were walking through the Chicago airport years ago and there it was.”

He continued: “I have a theory that anybody now from aged 15 on for the rest of their life will remember this photograph.

“So now I’m in secondary school, I’m 15 years old, I was on my computer in school and I go onto college and I go on into the work world and now I’m 50 years old, 70 years old and I see that image somewhere. I won’t remember where I saw it, but I will remember it.”

The hill is now being ploughed up and a vineyard has now been built over the front of the shot. Trees have also grown up behind the hill, the Mail reported in April.

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