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A farewell to bliss.
April 11, 2014 8:34 AM   Subscribe

Rarely do we associate Windows XP with Bliss. Charles O'Rear is the photographer who took Bliss, the image that became the desktop of every single Windows XP computer in the world. Billions saw it and probably think the photo is so perfect and colorful that it is computer generated—or at least Photoshopped. O'Rear, known for his photographs of Napa Valley, discusses the origin of the video.
posted by analogue (61 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Billions saw it and probably think the photo is so perfect and colorful that it is computer generated—or at least Photoshopped.

Yeah, it never occurred to me that this was anything other than a garish illustration.
posted by cincinnatus c at 8:41 AM on April 11 [6 favorites]


Bit of a pity that the "Bliss" hill later got converted to a vineyard. The later winter picture of the barren field isn't nearly so nice.

So it's nice that we have this iconic image to remind us of a list bit of countryside.
posted by happyroach at 8:43 AM on April 11


Now, when I go outside and look at a hillside, I have the nagging fear that one of my programs will crash.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:47 AM on April 11 [23 favorites]


That picture causes such a visceral reaction--and not all bad! It reminds me of getting a new computer. It's very jarring to see the picture in another context, as something other than a desktop image.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 8:53 AM on April 11 [4 favorites]


That picture causes such a visceral reaction--and not all bad! It reminds me of getting a new computer.

I was thinking the exact same thing only about the first time I saw blue clouds on my desktop in 1995.
posted by Fizz at 8:54 AM on April 11 [1 favorite]


There was a Vanity Fair article in 2007 about the Autumn picture that went to the same lengths. It was previously in the blue here.
posted by mhoye at 9:00 AM on April 11 [5 favorites]


Yeah, it never occurred to me that this was anything other than a garish illustration.

I can't figure out what this means. An illustration of what, exactly?
posted by yoink at 9:06 AM on April 11


I can't figure out what this means. An illustration of what, exactly?

If the context of my own extensive experience with XP is any guide, an illustration of despair and resignation.
posted by The World Famous at 9:07 AM on April 11 [6 favorites]


I must disagree, happyroach. I find the November image much less aggressive and more soothing. I might not have immediately deleted "Bliss" from my desktop had the warm browns and quiet skies been an option.
posted by SPrintF at 9:07 AM on April 11


I first saw this wallpaper when I was a cubicle slave at an insurance company. Among my group of malcontents the Bliss wallpaper on a coworker's PC was a sign of either limited intellectual capacity or an unreasoning fear of our corporate overlords. I still cannot understand people who never change their wallpaper.
posted by Ber at 9:13 AM on April 11 [5 favorites]


I think cincinnatus c means illustration in the sense that it is an artistic rendering, not a mostly factual photograph of a moment in time in a real place. The clouds are random enough to be real, but lighting on the lush, rolling green hills looks too staged to be natural.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:15 AM on April 11


Whatever happened to Robert Fripp making the startup sound for Vista? I read a whole Microsoft blog post about how he came in and recorded for them, but I don't think they ever used it.

***

I always took the Win 7 screen to be from the point of view of a bug down in the grass on that XP hill; if so, that was clever of them.
posted by thelonius at 9:30 AM on April 11


The whole idea of the Bliss image -- and learning the title of it only heightens this -- is perverse. It's like something out of a movie set in a dystopian future. People crammed into tiny cubicles staring at screens all day, their only reminder of an outside world an oversaturated photograph of the sunny outdoors. A synthetic breath of fresh air, perhaps, until you notice the barbed wire fence running through the middle, keeping you in your restrictive reality.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:34 AM on April 11 [13 favorites]


I still cannot understand people who never change their wallpaper.

This photo I took has been my wallpaper for years and I just now realized how close it looks to the default XP wallpaper.
posted by backseatpilot at 9:44 AM on April 11 [3 favorites]


and learning the title of it only heightens this

Yeah, but remember it was Microsoft who gave it the name "Bliss".. O'Rear might have left it untitled or just called it something like "From Country Road 22, North of Napa" or whatever.
posted by ReeMonster at 9:52 AM on April 11


The 2006 image was taken from the wrong location about 300 feet off. This image from 2010 is spot on and looks more like the original.
posted by stbalbach at 9:53 AM on April 11 [4 favorites]


Bliss on Google Street View
posted by stbalbach at 10:03 AM on April 11


how close it looks to the default XP wallpaper

But with a RADIO TELESCOPE FTW!
posted by localroger at 10:17 AM on April 11


I know it's weird to think, but pretty much any photo you like has been Photoshopped. If not in the true way involving PS, at least using presets in the phone or camera used to shoot it. I'm a showing-my-work photographer, and I never for a second think that anything that isn't a Polaroid showing me the actual paper Polaroid isn't Photoshopped.

/pedant
posted by nevercalm at 10:25 AM on April 11 [1 favorite]


Oh, and just to chime in, in the time I was corporate, I agree with Ber that walking into a cube with that thing on the monitor was pretty much a guarantee of having a bad time.
posted by nevercalm at 10:28 AM on April 11 [1 favorite]


I always found it a little too lawnmowery. That same hill in a more meadowlike state would be all right, but that one looks like it's had a lot of crude groundskeeping attention.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:37 AM on April 11


I know it's weird to think, but pretty much any photo you like has been Photoshopped.

Yeah. Photography is art, and art is art because it is created by humans.
posted by anonymisc at 10:37 AM on April 11


I first saw this wallpaper when I was a cubicle slave at an insurance company. Among my group of malcontents the Bliss wallpaper on a coworker's PC was a sign of either limited intellectual capacity or an unreasoning fear of our corporate overlords. I still cannot understand people who never change their wallpaper.

"You didn't change your wallpaper - therefore you must be a god-damned moron."
"You didn't change your wallpaper - therefore you have no agency and live in fear of the Man."

Crikes, what is this, 4chan?


Or maybe the Metafilter April Fool's prank was to replace comments from Metafilter with comments from Youtube and for some reason it's still running on my computer?

It's wallpaper FFS.
posted by bitteroldman at 10:38 AM on April 11 [13 favorites]


I never for a second think that anything that isn't a Polaroid showing me the actual paper Polaroid isn't Photoshopped.

Uh, if we're going with the whole "the tool distorts the shot and everything is a simulacra" stance, then surely Polaroids are also "Photoshopped"? I mean, people actually use Polaroids as a stylistic shorthand now. It's a preset in Instagram. Even if the original Polaroids offered you no choices here, that has to be the same as a preset in a camera that someone never even realizes is there?

</evenbiggerpedant>
</harrumph>

(disclaimer: I'm not being super serious here, but I would say Polaroids are as much a distortion of "the true image" as any photographic tool.)
posted by chrominance at 10:42 AM on April 11 [1 favorite]


I know it's weird to think, but pretty much any photo you like has been Photoshopped.

It's worth remembering that there's no such thing as a magical talisman of artistic integrity made out of silver halide. Ansel Adams did an awful lot of work between clicking the shutter and hanging the the print.
posted by mhoye at 10:48 AM on April 11 [8 favorites]


Uh, if we're going with the whole "the tool distorts the shot and everything is a simulacra" stance, then surely Polaroids are also "Photoshopped"? I mean, people actually use Polaroids as a stylistic shorthand now.

Nope, but good point. I was more trying to say that everything bears the stamp of Photoshop-ish stuff these days. I shoot raw and Photoshop everything I produce. I don't lay in crazy Instagramish shit, I color correct and spot. Stuff that used to take me hours and hours in the darkroom. I was more addressing the knock that something looks "Photoshopped" because it's perfect. Pretty much everything has processing involved. Even Polaroids, it's true, but it's been years since I had cameras capable of that.

This image was pretty, sure, and it looked artificial. Sort of. So say "cgi" or "cg." I didn't intend for it to be a derail, more just a point. If it's published or online in any serious way, it's been Photoshopped. I'm sure PS was involved in all of the other images in the XP portfolio as well, but the "Bliss" one looked like CG to me.
posted by nevercalm at 10:54 AM on April 11


At least one good thing about the Bliss photo: It works well as a desktop background because you can see icons against it. Honestly, I have seen some background photos so contrasty and busy that I can't figure out how the users find any of the actual stuff on the desktop (and those same people with their family at the campout photo tend to also have 100 icons overlaying the pic).

My own desktop, ever since Windows 3.1, has been a little tile that recreates the Escher print "Flock." I've recolorized it a few times and for the last 15 years or so have used a medium blue against black. It's distinctive so everyone recognizes my computers but not distracting so I can find the icons and work with it behind the active windows.

If you walk through a busy corporate workplace where people are allowed to fiddle with their settings you'll see why other places lock everything down to a corporate standard. Even if you don't see anything as offensive as Nedry's wallpaper in Jurassic Park you'll see every manner of garishly lit family vacation photos, website icons blown up way too much with no borders, pics so busy or contrasty that icons are all but invisible, and let's not forget screensavers that max out the CPU and pile up internet bandwidth.
posted by localroger at 10:55 AM on April 11 [4 favorites]


It's worth remembering that there's no such thing as a magical talisman of artistic integrity made out of silver halide. Ansel Adams did an awful lot of work between clicking the shutter and hanging the the print.

Having not previewed, yep. I'm familiar with and have practiced all those methods. Just more pointing out a quibble with the language. PS is everywhere.
posted by nevercalm at 10:56 AM on April 11


pretty much any photo you like has been Photoshopped

Depends on what your definition of "photoshopped" is. If you mean things have been inserted or subtracted from the scene that was photographed or that colors have been changed radically from what they were in real life (like from red to blue), you're flat out wrong. But if you mean that contrast has been increased, colors have been slightly shifted to reflect what was in the scene, cropping, etc., then you're right. A file straight from any digital camera now has too much dynamic range and looks grayer than it should, for instance. There needs to be a little digital darkroom work done to it to make it look like the thing that was photographed in the first place.
posted by msbrauer at 10:56 AM on April 11 [1 favorite]


Depends on what your definition of "photoshopped" is.

Yup, we agree. Everything has a little tweak to it. That was what I meant, is all. I really didn't intend for this to be a derail. I'm stepping out and headed to work.
posted by nevercalm at 10:58 AM on April 11


If it's published or online in any serious way, it's been Photoshopped.

I think when people say of a photo like "Bliss," "I thought that had been photoshopped" they aren't referring to tweaking the color saturation etc., they're saying "I thought someone had cropped a hill out of one image, pasted it onto a sky from another image, maybe cut-and-pasted in the foreground from yet another image, thrown a few extra clouds into the sky, removed a few buildings or scars on the side of the hill" etc. etc. etc. They mean the image is a montage, or that its content has been significantly altered--they're not talking about the kinds of choices one used to make in developing a negative; they're talking about the kinds of thing that would once have required compositing from multiple negatives and probably a lot of highly skilled drawing/painting work from a retoucher.
posted by yoink at 11:04 AM on April 11


Ok, I'm REALLY going to work...

I think when people say of a photo like "Bliss," "I thought that had been photoshopped" they aren't referring to tweaking the color saturation etc., they're saying "I thought someone had cropped a hill out of one image, pasted it onto a sky from another image, maybe cut-and-pasted in the foreground from yet another image, thrown a few extra clouds into the sky, removed a few buildings or scars on the side of the hill" etc. etc. etc.

Yup. So when I'm showing work and people find out I use Photoshop to make necessary color corrections, they think I've done that. When I haven't. I've just made very minor tweaks. I'm about to show again. I'd like to never hear "oh, you use PHOTOSHOP." Again. Because it gets asked, every time. We need a new word.

Again OP, sorry for the derail. Off to work I go.
posted by nevercalm at 11:14 AM on April 11 [1 favorite]


Let's also not forget that Brian Eno created some sounds for Microsoft. Bloated and bland as the company may be at times, there's no denying the cultural and historical impact their products have had. It's really cool to see humanity pulled out of something as banal as a Windows XP stock wallpaper. You don't even think about it most of the time, but there's a story behind everything.
posted by oceanjesse at 12:02 PM on April 11 [5 favorites]


It works well as a desktop background because you can see icons against it.

This. I remember discussing something like this very point in the first days that our help desk got a staggered rollout of XP (some of us needed to stay on older Windows for support reasons). There was a flurry of whipping through display options and picking wallpapers and some of us definitely preferred Bliss for its cleanness (we had busy icon-filled desktops). We also had a pretty stressful job and liked its peacefulness. Of course there was a nerd with a USS Enterprise and a guy with a hockey wallpaper, but Bliss had to have been on a few of ours for months afterward.

Anyway, I just recently saw it on the XP computers of a local small business who is belatedly considering upgrading. Though I don't do that stuff myself anymore, I gave her my thoughts re: Win7, Win8.1, and so forth.

I do think the story behind it is neat, but the nerdery around getting the precise same view today is amusing.
posted by dhartung at 12:44 PM on April 11


the nerdery around getting the precise same view today is amusing

Well retrophotography is a thing -- it's a major hobby to try and recreate, for example, location shots from famous movies under as close to the original conditions as possible. And Bliss is one of the most widely known photographs in the world.
posted by localroger at 12:53 PM on April 11


It always felt like a photo of Teletubbyland to me..oddly sedating yet vaguely disturbing.
posted by malocchio at 12:53 PM on April 11 [4 favorites]


I enjoyed Bliss so much I never bothered to change it on any of my XP machines. Rather than a "god no my life is hell" reaction I could look at it and just feel calm for a moment. It reminds me of the rolling wheat fields of the Palouse.

To each his own, I guess.
posted by wallabear at 1:04 PM on April 11 [1 favorite]


It used to be, not that long ago, that having a large image as your desktop background consumed available memory and could slow your system down. So I've used Prairie Wind starting with Win95 and every Windows desktop since. Now get off my blue-green amber waves of grain.
posted by achrise at 1:16 PM on April 11


I still cannot understand people who never change their wallpaper.

I don't trust people who change their wallpaper. They have too much time on their hands. Clearly they're not busy.
posted by mazola at 1:33 PM on April 11 [2 favorites]


I never bother changing my wallpaper at work. Why would I care? I either have stuff open because I'm working on it or I'm somewhere else away from my computer. The default flat blue background works just fine for me for those thirty seconds or so between unlocking the screen and opening a program.
posted by shelleycat at 1:55 PM on April 11 [2 favorites]


Yet more possible conclusions:
Not changing your wallpaper at work: I'm not sure I'm going to be here very long.
Changing your wallpaper at work: I'm building my nest.
:-)
posted by anonymisc at 2:13 PM on April 11


I always change my desktop to a flat color in Windows, for the simple reason that it makes icons easy to see. There's not much you can do to prevent slow icon creep in Windows, so it might as well be not-visually-painful icon creep. In Linux, I usually choose a muted, almost monochromatic picture; something like visual muzak. It needs to be pleasant to see upon startup, but not offensive in any way.

It's not like I stare at it, anyway. Who ever actually sees their wallpaper?
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:04 PM on April 11 [2 favorites]


Jeez. I make it all the way through the thread ready to make a comment about "Wallpaper? I've been a flat color guy for years now." And right there at the end, sonic meat machine stabs me in the heart.
posted by Ickster at 3:18 PM on April 11 [2 favorites]


Who ever actually sees their wallpaper?
I just had to Windows-M to see what my desktop wallpaper was.
Although I fear this is more a comment on my memory than any disdain for wallpaper.
posted by fullerine at 3:24 PM on April 11


My wallpaper is the live image from your webcam. Hi.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:35 PM on April 11


Flat wallpapers rule. My wallpaper is 4A525A.
posted by oceanjesse at 3:48 PM on April 11


Funny. Last summer I was on a bike ride from Madison, WI to Lodi shortly out of town. I snapped a photo that looked eerily similar. Funny coincidence.
posted by genezkool323 at 3:51 PM on April 11 [1 favorite]


Jeez. I make it all the way through the thread ready to make a comment about "Wallpaper? I've been a flat color guy for years now." And right there at the end, sonic meat machine stabs me in the heart.

I'm sorry, Ickster. Next time I will leave the contrarian nerd comment for you to make. :D
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:08 PM on April 11


Fuji Velvia: analog Photoshop.

I wonder if the clouds were blown out on the slide, or if someone scanned it wrong, or increased contrast later.
posted by scose at 4:46 PM on April 11 [1 favorite]


What an ironic name considering the actual user experience for the majority of PC users.
posted by polymodus at 5:07 PM on April 11


What an ironic name considering the actual user experience for the majority of PC users.

For those of us who have been using Windows for a long time, XP was actually a pleasure, and refreshingly stable and usable, particularly compared with Win 95/98. (For a while I thought of Windows releases like Star Trek movies: every other one was worthwhile.) I was pretty happy with it. I still have a computer than uses it, which I now plan to retire only because of the end of updates thing. But, you know, my IT glory years were on DOS 3, Novell NetWare, and an ArcNet of 486's back in the day, so this modren stuff is all gravy.
posted by aught at 5:29 PM on April 11 [4 favorites]


XP was actually a pleasure

This. XP bridged a major gap. After Windows 3.11, which was relatively stable if you knew what to avoid doing, 98SE was the next usable version of consumer Windows (where "usable" means "stable enough to use for a customer's application you have to support").

But in those days there was the business side, in the form of NT 4.0. NT was super stable although there was no way to convince it to commit changes to the physical hard drive (I used to joke that the reset button should be labeled "press to lose data"). 2000 largely fixed that and added some, but not all, of the peripheral compatibility that existed for 95/98. NT didn't even come out of the box with support for USB memory sticks. But 2000 sucked for multimedia and a lot of printers and just about all scanners and anything else not business or industrial in nature.

XP merged the lines, forcing the consumer peripheral vendors to make drivers that were usable on a machine with business class stability. The first year or so was rocky and I skipped it, but ultimately I had to admit it was as good as 2000 while adding all the goodies I'd stuck with 98SE for on my home machine. This was also the first time Microsoft really threw a whole class of legacy software under the bus; all that old DOS stuff that bit-banged the serial and parallel ports were now DOA. But what did work, worked better than ever.

The XP user interface was the culmination of over a decade of refinement and was very good. I hated the cartoonish start button (compared to the Windows-standard 2000 version) but overall it was solid, predictable, explorable, and made good sense.

Every change since XP has been downhill. Maybe not under the hood, but as a user every subsequent version has sucked harder as they've gone for glitz instead of functionality and change for its own sake. The XP task bar behavior makes perfect sense to me even when it's stacking instances; I still have no idea what the hell the Win7 taskbar is up to and can't figure out by glancing at it what is or isn't running. And don't even get me started on Vista or 8, both of which were just huge mistakes that should be buried.

I have an 8.1 laptop I needed at work for a particular app that wouldn't run on any of my older legacy boxes, and with ClassicShell it's barely tolerable but only barely. As with everything Vista and beyond it suffers from a bad bad case of Trying Too Hard. XP just presented a consistent user interface along with stable operation and a full range of multimedia peripheral support; every Microsoft OS since has been trying too goddamn hard to entertain me or be my friend.
posted by localroger at 6:50 PM on April 11 [3 favorites]


The day I finally twigged that you could just put a whacking great stash of pictures in a folder and WIn 7 would cycle through them and that all the images on www.deadendthrills.com (Duncan Harris' wonderful 'Bullshot' repository) were 1080p was a happy one.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:53 PM on April 11


My happy day was the day I found the program that sets your wallpaper to whatever today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:33 PM on April 11


I'm probably in a small minority of users who can't stand icons on the desktop so mine is completely clean. Commonly used apps get pinned to the task bar, slightly less commonly used apps get pinned to the top of the start menu, and everything else is launched via hitting the win-key and typing.

So I never really see my desktop normally except after reboots. I should find a high resolution version of Bliss just for the nostalgia. Except, I don't really have nostalgia for that photo. Microsoft, in it's infinite wisdom, only shipped a low res version and so on new installs, I'd immediately get rid of it because it looked terrible stretched to 1600x1200.

So when I'd see someone with Bliss on a 1280x1024 or higher screen, I'd immediately realize I should never trust their opinion on any of my designs. If they weren't bothered by the ugly, blurry stretched graphic, then they were completely oblivious to even the most basic details.
posted by honestcoyote at 8:33 PM on April 11 [1 favorite]


As long as I had Bliss for wallpaper, I pictured Andrew Wyeth's Christina on the hill.
posted by Cranberry at 1:14 AM on April 12


I'm still trying to find the blue field where this is from
posted by oxford blue at 4:47 AM on April 12


As a local, it bugs me beyond reason that this photo is always referenced as being shot in "Napa". It's in Sonoma, and Sonoma County. Normally I don't care about any kinds of weird wine country rivalry, but for some reason I can't ever let this go by without comment. It bugs me especially because it's location is now well known and it's not that hard to get the facts right (I'm looking at you Vanity Fair).
posted by gofargogo at 2:10 PM on April 12


> Bit of a pity that the "Bliss" hill later got converted to a vineyard. The later winter picture of the barren field isn't nearly so nice.

The wikipedia page also mentions another recent photo from a more precisely-the-same location. It was taken while the vines were green.
posted by morganw at 2:20 PM on April 12


honestcoyote: "I should find a high resolution version of Bliss just for the nostalgia."

Did somebody say high resolution Bliss?
Yes, I was waiting for an excuse to post this.
posted by t3h933k at 7:24 PM on April 13


The wikipedia page also mentions another recent photo from a more precisely-the-same location.

Now I want to know what winery those vines belong to and whether they make a good wine out of them. It looks like it might be Las Madres Vineyards, who make syrahs, but it's hard to tell where the property boundaries are.
posted by aught at 1:50 PM on April 15


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