You’d be lucky if about 17 people saw your photograph if it was taken in the early 19th century when the camera was invented by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1816. Nowadays, however, you’d be pretty pissed off if your latest Instagram selfie didn’t reach 200 likes, with thousands of people casting their beady eyes over your latest holiday in the Bahamas.
But, such begs the question, what is the most viewed photo of all time? The obvious ones that spring to mind are Tank Man, taken by Jeff Widener, which showed a solitary man standing up to a line of tanks during the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, and Earthrise by William Anders, which showed the rising of the earth from beyond the horizon of the moon taken during the Apollo 8 mission of 1968.
Or, how about Malcolm Browne’s Burning Monk, taken on a busy Saigon road on June 11th, 1963, or the cover of the Abbey Road album by the Beatles, featuring an iconic image of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr by Iain Macmillan.
Well, the answer isn’t exactly a predictable one, with the photograph widely believed to be Bliss, the shot that was chosen to be the default wallpaper of Windows XP when it was launched in 2001.
Shot in Sonoma County, California, the rolling green hills of Bliss were captured by the side of a busy highway by photographer Charles O’Rear. In the 22 years of Windows XP’s existence, it is thought that the image has been viewed by over one billion people, making it the most-viewed photo of all time.
Of course, there’s no way of truly proving this fact, but through sheer logic, there’s good reason to suggest that it’s the most-viewed photo in human history. Speaking about how he captured the iconic snapshot in time, O’Rear told PCWorld, “I got out, took a couple of pictures, and kept on going…And the rest is history”.
Elaborating a little more about how he was contacted about the image, the photographer adds: “I got an email from someone at Microsoft—I suspect it was the engineering department—saying, ‘We have a contest going about that photograph…’Most of us think it was Photoshopped. Some of us think it was taken out in eastern Washington in the Palouse area. Tell us about it.’ I wrote back and said, ‘Sorry, it’s the real deal. It was all there. The clouds were there, the green grass was there and the blue sky”.
Many have tried (and indeed failed) to recreate the same image in the same location, travelling to the exact address of 3101 Fremont Dr. (Sonoma Hwy.), Sonoma, CA, in attempts to gain a similar level of internet fame.
For a proper nostalgia gut-punch, check out the Windows XP start-up below, which includes O’Rear’s iconic photo, Bliss.