Seeing the first pictures of Curiosity touching down on Mars, I was reminded of another landscape photo that drew a lot of press this week. It’s a picture that is literally famous for being famous. As wallpaper for Windows XP, this photoblog claimed the image has now been seen over a billion times.
On the one hand, it’s profoundly generic, giving us a verdant hillside lit up by the sun. The balance of two primary colors lends a sparse, but an essential quality, as if all life can be broken down into simple binaries. A patchwork of clouds does lend more variety complexity, but anything more intense is relegated to the far off distance. And, taken in Napa, it’s sort of a clever, subliminal advertisement for an idealized California dream, mixing nature at your backdoor with the fertility of Silicon Valley.
Perhaps the photo, though, is more of an anesthetic, as reflective of life and culture today as, well, Microsoft. As more images come in from Mars, filling up screens and racking up page views, it seems NASA couldn’t have come up with a better name than Curiosity.
(photo 1: Microsoft photo 2: NASA/JPL caption: The first photos from the Mars rover Curiosity and the scene inside the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge, where the mission is monitored.)