The Story Behind the Photo Everyone Knows

It is a photo almost everyone knows, but do you know the story of where the iconic Windows XP wallpaper, “Bliss,” came from? This fantastic video takes a deep dive into the story behind what is arguably the world’s most-seen image.

Coming to you from Michael MJD, this interesting video takes a look at “Bliss,” the photo that became the default desktop background for Windows XP. Initially snapped roadside in 1996 by veteran National Geographic photographer Charles O’Rear, Bliss was simply one frame among the thousands O’Rear captured through his prolific career. But through an improbable series of events involving Bill Gates, stock photo libraries, and bold Microsoft marketing decisions, Bliss ended up gazing out from millions of screens at the dawn of consumer digital photography.

Embodying the visual ethos Microsoft pursued with XP’s Luna theme, Bliss brought a grounded yet aspirational sensibility, marrying the computing revolution with the enduring allure of the natural world. The video charts the photo’s origins, procurement by Microsoft to spearhead XP’s campaign, and cultural saturation at the expense of O’Rear’s renown. With the operating system now obsolete, what remains is the timeless intrigue of how a single shutter click transformed a Sonoma hillside into an artifact of digital history. Even as its status fades, the memories color a generation for whom that gentle gradient will always say, “Welcome to Windows XP.” Check out the video above for the full rundown.


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