Hillsides and Hippies

Bliss (1996) trimThere’s a very good chance that you and everyone you know have probably seen the photograph in the overhead banner hundreds of times.  That’s because Microsoft used the photo as its default desktop wallpaper when it released Windows XP way back in 2001.  This was around the same time that approximately 95% of Americans were using Internet Explorer as their preferred web browser, and, not coincidentally, around the same time that the federal government accused Microsoft of being a monopoly.  I’d never given the image much thought, but I’ve just learned from the good folks over at Scientific American that a photographer named Charles O’Rear snapped the photo while passing through Sonoma County in northern California in 1996. The same article also provides an interesting side-by-side comparison showing what the same hillside looked like ten years later.  Even if you’re not familiar with O’Rear’s name, you’re probably familiar with his (non-hillside) work.  For example, his photograph of a hitchhiker and his dog (1972) has achieved iconic status, and was featured prominently when the National Archives ran an excellent exhibit titled “Searching for the Seventies” last summer.