Charles O'Rear

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Chuck O'Rear
Charles O'Rear.jpg
O'Rear in 2007
Charles O'Rear

1941 (age 78–79)
Notable work
Spouse(s)Daphne Larkin

Charles "Chuck" O'Rear (born 1941) is an American photographer. His image, Bliss, was used as the default desktop wallpaper of Microsoft's Windows XP operating system. O'Rear started his career with the daily newspapers Emporia Gazette, The Kansas City Star, and Los Angeles Times, worked for National Geographic magazine, and was part of the Environmental Protection Agency's DOCUMERICA project. He began photographing winemaking in 1978.

Since 1998 O'Rear has been associated with Corbis, a Seattle based stock photography company owned by co-founder and chairman of Microsoft, Bill Gates. Corbis was bought by Visual China Group in 2016, who now distribute his Corbis images on Getty Images.

Early life and career[edit]

O'Rear was born in Butler, Missouri in 1941 and first handled a Brownie camera when he was 10. As a child, he wanted to be a pilot and got his license at the age of 16. He attended State Teachers College and started his career as a sports reporter for the Butler Daily Democrat.[1] In 1961, he joined the daily newspaper Emporia Gazette as a photographer, and in 1962 The Kansas City Star as a reporter-photographer and, in 1966, he moved to Los Angeles to join as a staff photographer for the Los Angeles Times.[2]

In 1971, National Geographic magazine hired O'Rear to document the lives of Russian villagers in Alaska who called themselves Old Believers. In 1978, the magazine sent him to Napa Valley to photograph the wine region. O'Rear became interested in wine photography and shifted his base to the valley to photograph the region. In 1985, he traveled to Indonesia for another assignment for the magazine where he carried 500 rolls of film and took 15,000 photos.[1] O'Rear has appeared on National Geographic magazine's cover twice: once as "Bird Man" flying an ultralight aircraft and later for the other photograph shown him holding a computer chip in his hand.[3] O'Rear had been associated with the magazine for nearly 25 years (1971 to 1995) and has photographed in 30 countries and every state in the USA.[1] For the magazine, he photographed 25 articles ranging in topics including the Mexican Riviera, Siberia, Canada, Silicon Valley and Napa Valley.[2] While working with National Geographic, he learned to use small strobes and taught the subject for 11 years at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshop.[3]

From 1972 to 1975, O'Rear was part of the Environmental Protection Agency's DOCUMERICA project, aimed at "photographically documenting the subjects of environmental concern in America during the 1970s" along with 70 other photographers including Bill Strode, Danny Lyon and John H. White.[4][5] O'Rear is credited with the most photographs in the final DOCUMERICA collection.[6] In 1980, he co-founded the photo agency, "Westlight", with Craig Aurness, which was acquired in 1998 by Corbis.[3][7] In 1998, Corbis sent O'Rear around the world for a year to photograph major wine regions.[3]


Bliss was taken in 1996 by O'Rear and later served as the default desktop background of Windows XP
Photographers like to become famous for pictures they created, I didn't 'create' this. I just happened to be there at the right moment and documented it.[1] I had no idea when I took the photograph that anything like that could happen. It is probably the most recognized photo on the planet.[8]

— O'Rear on making Bliss

In January 1996, O'Rear was driving through Napa and Sonoma counties in California and photographed a green, lush hillside on the side of the highway 12/121.[1] O'Rear took the photograph with a hand-held medium-format Mamiya RZ67 camera. He submitted the photo to Westlight under the name of Bucolic Green Hills.[9] Westlight would be acquired by Corbis in 1998, one of the stock photography agencies that Microsoft used at the time.

Microsoft picked O'Rear's image for its new operating system Windows XP in 2001, buying all rights to it.[10] Microsoft renamed the image to Bliss and used it as the default desktop wallpaper for Windows XP's default theme.[11] As a result of the success of the operating system, O'Rear's photograph became one of the most viewed images in history.[8][10][12][13] Microsoft chose the image because "it illustrates the experiences Microsoft strives to provide customers (freedom, possibility, calmness, warmth, etc.)."[14]

In the Dutch edition of the operating system, the name of the image is "Ireland", causing Irish locations to be mistakenly believed as the depicted location.[13] Before the location was revealed, various places had been speculated on including France, England, Switzerland, the North Otago region of New Zealand, southeastern Washington, South West Kerry in Ireland and the south of Tübingen, Germany.[15] The image was alleged to have been digitally manipulated to enhance its effects or even to have been a computer-generated scene, assembled using Adobe Photoshop from a number of different images. Although O'Rear denied the claim and reported that it was submitted to Westlight without making any change to it,[1] Microsoft are often believed to have cropped the image on the left side of the frame and altered the color of the hillside to a more vivid green.[10] However, a thumbnail of Bliss from Corbis Westlight Creative Freedom, a CD-ROM consisting of rights-managed stock photography, shows that the version Microsoft purchased from Corbis had been cropped and saturated to begin with.[16] The image also became part of Microsoft's $200 million advertising campaign to promote their software, Yes You Can and has been the subject of many parodies.[10]


O'Rear has written, produced and photographed 10 books about wine and wine regions since 1989.[2]

  • Silicon Valley High Tech: Window to the Future. Australia: Weldon Publishing, 1985.
  • Napa Valley (1989)
  • Fodor's Wine Country (1995)
  • Cabernet: A Photographic Journey from Vine to Wine (1998) co-authored with Michael Creedman, Foreword by Robert Mondavi
  • Chardonnay: Photographs from Around the World (1999) co-authored with Michael Creedman
  • Napa Valley: The Land, The Wine, The People (2001)
  • Beautiful Wineries (2005) co-authored with Thom Elkjer
  • Wine Places: The Land, the Wine, the People (2005) co-authored with David Furer
  • Wine Across America: A Photographic Road Trip (2007) co-authored with Daphne Larkin
  • Beringer's Rhine House (2009) co-authored with Daphne Larkin
  • Napa Valley: The Land, The Wine, The People (2011)


  1. ^ a b c d e f Younger, Carolyn (January 18, 2010). "Windows XP desktop screen is a Napa image". Napa Valley Register. Retrieved May 10, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c "Biography, Charles O'Rear". Retrieved May 10, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d "Member Information: Charles O'Rear". Retrieved May 11, 2013.
  4. ^ "The George Washington Bridge in Heavy Smog, View Toward the New Jersey Side of the Hudson River". World Digital Library. Retrieved February 10, 2013.
  5. ^ "DOCUMERICA: The Environmental Protection Agency's Program to Photographically Document Subjects of Environmental Concern, 1972-1977". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved February 10, 2013.
  6. ^ "Documerica in Focus: Charles "Chuck" O'Rear". United States Environmental Protection Agency. Archived from the original on May 10, 2013. Retrieved May 11, 2013.
  7. ^ Pickerell, Jim (May 20, 1998). "Corbis Acquires Westlight". Selling Stock. Retrieved September 5, 2019.
  8. ^ a b Gardner, David (November 12, 2011). "Scene grab: How a sun-kissed California view became the most recognisable vista on the planet". Daily Mail. Retrieved May 12, 2013.
  9. ^ Metadata of Bliss, Windows XP Beta 2
  10. ^ a b c d Clark, David. "Bliss by Charles O'Rear: Iconic Photograph". Amateur Photographer. Retrieved May 12, 2013.
  11. ^ "Microsoft behind world's most viewed photograph". The Times of India. July 18, 2012. Retrieved May 12, 2013.
  12. ^ "Charles O'Rear's 'Bliss' one of the most viewed photo of all time". Yahoo! News. July 18, 2012. Retrieved May 12, 2013.
  13. ^ a b Messieh, Nancy (August 28, 2011). "Ever wonder where the Windows XP default wallpaper came from?". The Next Web. Retrieved May 12, 2013.
  14. ^ Turner, Paul (22 February 2004). "No view of Palouse from Windows". The Spokesman-Review. Spokane. Archived from the original on 16 November 2009. Retrieved 19 September 2012.
  15. ^ "Das bekannteste Foto der Welt". January 11, 2011. Retrieved September 27, 2013. External link in |publisher= (help)
  16. ^ Corbis Westlight Creative Freedom (CD-ROM). Corbis. 1998.

External links[edit]