28 February 2007

Where MSWindows Wallpaper Comes From

Ever gaze at those rolling green hills or that island getaway on your Windows machine and wonder... "where is that?"

Ted points us to "Autumn and the plot against me," a journalist's effort to find the location of a serene yellow leaf-covered allee that adorns his computer screen. (A thumbs-up from me on this brief Vanity Fair piece.)

By coincidence, a work-project had me skimming Flickr. I bumped into an album by Hamad Darwish, a young and talented photographer who had only been at it for a few years when he was tapped by Microsoft to shoot the wallpaper screens for Windows Vista. Here is a Flickr album of the Vista rejects.

Toby emailed me a good-luck note re:the work project, with this photo:

I'll try to spare you the introspective bit about why I find anonymous artwork fascinating. But I do; I always have. Anonymous faceless art intrigues me - e.g., I don't like hotelroom art, but I like wondering who on earth comes up with such obscenely unoffensive stuff.

Looking back, when I was in high school, I used to stay up until midnight to watch the Lifetime channel, because at midnight, it switched into a nameless, almost surreal mode in which detailed, fine-print text from pharmaceutical inserts scrolled by on the screen while incomprehensibly bland and depersonalized new age music played in the background. Woah! It felt like it was beamed in from another planet! Who wrote this stuff? Who's sitting in the control room entering all that text about "myocardial infarction" and "syncope"?

Thinking back further, when I was more ignorant about how products are made, I was equally mesmerized by the little-noticed objects in our lives that hold the world together. Who makes the electrical outlets lining the walls near the floor in the local mall? Who makes the drain grates on the bathroom floor in the bookstore? Those stop signs that swing out from the side of schoolbuses.... where are those from?

J-Fav thinks it's creepy that I like such desolate stuff. Rather, she thinks it's desolate. I think it's the opposite. My mind just automatically falls into a psychoanalytical groove whenever I stop to consider any person-made artifact. It's like my graphic design professor used to tell us, "Absolutely everything you see is the result of a conscious design decision." Who was this person? How sympathetic was he or she to the user's needs (or the viewer's preferences? or the listener's opinion of what background noise is conducive to reading pharmaceutical data?).

I wonder if my aesthetic response to imaginary maps and aerial photographs is part of this psychology. Heck, even the design of you-are-here maps. And QSL cards.

Well, that was much more self-absorbed than I intended.



Sir Black Maggot said...

Yay, thanks for the link! The thing about the bathroom drains reminded me of a time, many years ago, when I was using the men's room at a highway rest stop (Mass. Pike, Natick, if I'm not mistaken). The urinal had one of those little red plastic mats in it, the thing that probably keeps cigarette butts from getting into the plumbing, or God knows what. This is hardly an original observation, but I'd seen hundreds of these things and it had never occurred to me to read one, okay? Anyway, alongside the company logo, this plastic thing advised me, in modestly-sized type, to SAY NO TO DRUGS. It took a minute for the full impact of the absurdity to really sink in. I mean, first, how strung out do you have to be before you're taking life advice from the bottom of a urinal? Second, and more to the point of this post, it started to dawn on me that somebody, somewhere, had actually made a conscious decision that this was a good idea. Because anti-drug messages don't just spontaneously appear on bathroom supplies, right? (Do they?) I've always wondered how that came about, exactly.

Incidentally, thanks to Google, I now know I'm not the only one who's been troubled by this. And flickr has evidence that they've moved on from the war on drugs to the war on disease, which is possibly even more insane. Okay, I'm tired. Can I go home now?

Sir Black Maggot said...

Dammit, now I have this other random association I have to put down, after ruminating some more about aerial photos and the Vanity Fair author's quest. So, back in 2003, I took this picture from a plane somewhere north of L.A. I like going over my airplane photos and figuring out where I took them, when I can, but this one was really hard and I got kind of obsessed. I may have literally spent hours poring over Google Maps trying to locate it. (These were the days before Google Earth, or it would have been easier.) Anyway, I did eventually work it out.

Okay, so a couple years later, in November of 2005, I found myself driving from L.A. up to San Francisco, and as I was looking at my road atlas a certain stretch of highway started to look familiar, and I realized I was within striking distance of the spot in the picture. This is when it became particularly clear that I'm a nutjob with certain obsessive-compulsive tendencies, because I COULD NOT GO ON without leaving the interstate and trying to find that spot on the ground, which in fact I did. (I had my laptop with me so I was able to refer to the picture.)

The payoff was that I saw some gorgeous scenery around Ojai and watched a really spectacular sunset from an overlook left of center in the picture. The downside was it added about four hours and 100 twisty miles to the trip, I got lost briefly on the way back to I-5, and I didn't get back to San Francisco till about 3 in the morning. Like I said: nutjob, but the point is that the whole wallpaper thing makes a weird amount of sense to me. Okay, now I'm really going home. Stop bugging me with your damn thought-provoking blog posts.

Jedediah said...

Hooray for QSL cards. My dad's had the Brooklyn Bridge. Further evidence that there is a market for a documentary about Hams.