If you’ve ever used a Microsoft Windows computer PC (which I’m guessing is a group that includes 99.999% of the people reading this, even the Mactards), chances are very good that you’ve seen this image.
It’s called Bliss and was taken by Napa “are we sick of hearing about this place yet” Valley resident and former National Geographic photographer Charles O’Rear, while he was taking a break during a drive through
Napa Sonoma (corrected here as well as below, thanks to James Marshall Berry for pointing out the misinformation!) while on an assignment. O’Rear sold the image to Microsoft over ten years ago, and it has been one of the default background images for Microsoft Windows ever since (specifically, for Windows XP… yes, Mac-lovers, it was visible right before XP crashed into the Blue Screen Of Death… I admit that I’m just jealous of your computer’s stability and chic cool aesthetics, okay?).
Due to its default background-image status, according to the blog Morts Photography this photo is very likely now the single most viewed image of all time, having been seen by well over a billion people worldwide…
Of course, that figure is impossible to validate, but the very real possibility that a wine country image might be the most recognizable photo in the world should be an intriguing one for wine lovers; Bliss puts wine country imagery somewhere in the Raising The Flag On Iwo Jima territory of iconic lens work.
O’Rear was paid an undisclosed amount for the rights to the photo, but also according to Morts (and the Napa Valley Register) it’s been estimated that the amount tendered to him by Microsoft would make this at least the second most expensive photo of all time (the first being a shot of president Bill Clinton hugging… Monica Lewinsky).
This makes Sonoma potentially the most-viewed wine region in world photographic history, yet somewhat ironically not a grape or bottle is in sight in the picture.
I find that fascinating, but I’m a geek. Personally, I’m a bit sick of seeing that photo, but that’s not because I don’t think it’s a lovely shot (it is); it is merely contempt bred from familiarity, which is exactly how I have often felt about Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, and am starting to feel about $10 Argentine Malbec, though theoretically there’s nothing inherently wrong with the concept of either one of them. Anyway…
Part of the image’s appeal is of course the beauty of the region itself, but another is the skill of O’Rear as a photographer in how he rendered his subject – the guy simply takes amazing photographs, and his ability to capture the soul of Napa Valley is probably only matched by the late Wes Walker. Anyone out there reading this who’s been to Sonoma or The Valley have probably taken a sh*tload of photos (guilty!), but I’d wager few of them match the area as seen through the skilled eyes of Walker and O’Rear (but if you have wine country shots of which you’re particularly proud, please share links!).
To see more of O’Rear’s work that probably won’t breed familiar contempt, and which actually involves people, grapevines and bottles (including a really interesting and aesthetically pleasing foldout spread of the art on the foil caps that adorn the top of some of Napa’s most coveted bottles), check out O’Rear’s excellent Napa Valley: The Land, The Wine, The People (about $45). It’s one of the few wine coffee table wine books that doesn’t suck.