Charles O’Rear, who shot the world’s most viewed photo for Microsoft in 1996, has taken three new photos for Lufthansa to serve as smartphone screensavers. During a 36-year career, O’Rear has worked for the Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s DOCUMERICA project on conservation. But he’s most famous for shooting the Windows XP wallpaper, “Bliss,” which has been seen by approximately a billion people using the software since 2017 started.
The image was originally shot in Sonoma County, California when O’Rear was on his way to visit his girlfriend. Struck by the beauty of the landscape just after a storm had passed, O’Rear whipped out his Mamiya RZ6. “There it was! My God, the grass is perfect! It’s green! The sun is out; there’s some clouds,” he remembers thinking. “Out goes the camera and there is the photograph. Bingo!”
The photo was so memorable partly because of a series of coincidences. Although O’Rear did not digitally edit the photo, the colors were extremely bright because he used Fujifilm’s Velvia, the most intense color film on the market at the time. A U.S. Agriculture employee later told O’Rear that the grass on the hillside had been fertilized with manure in the weeks before the photograph was taken, adding to the vivid hue.
After taking the photo O’Rear uploaded the image to Bill Gates’ stock photo agency “Corbis,” and Microsoft was so impressed by it that they flew him to their Washington headquarters personally in order to get the good copy of the image. He says that he had no idea that it was going to become “the most seen photograph or recognizable photograph in the world,” and wishes he’d negotiated a better financial deal at the time.
Now, O’Rear is shooting a campaign with Lufthansa called “New Angles of America.” Their website describes the campaign as a “photographic excursion in the American wilderness with a new mission: to take a new generation [of] background photos for the most used screen of our time: the smartphone.”
As part of the project, O’Rear has shot free downloadable smartphone backgrounds in Peek-A-Boo Slot, Utah, Maroon Bells, Colorado, and White Pocket, Arizona. Users can upload one of them to Instagram, and write a caption on why they would like to visit that place for the chance to win a free trip there.
O’Rear says that he’s happy to be working on a “sequel” to his famous photo, and he’s excited to be working for a new medium. “After all,” he says, “Smartphones have become the primary place for the world to see new and interesting photography. And I’m glad to be part of it.”
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