While getting organized for next month’s road trip, I came across a copy of my Burning Man packing list. It reminded me that as I prepare to head cross country many are preparing for their annual trek to Burning Man.
Burning Man runs for a full week, ending on Labor Day. The year I went I was going by myself and wanted to be there for it all. I decided to head out the weekend before and camp in several of my favorite places in southern Oregon on the way there. My plan was to get to Black Rock Desert Tuesday afternoon, after getting a shower at the local “resort”. Of course, I doubt any business would last long out there and sure enough, this one was boarded up. No other options, so off to Burning Man sans shower!
I first learned of Burning Man when I was at a friend’s design studio and his assistant had the website on her computer. It just seemed to be the kind of place that would be great to explore photographically, especially ripe for the Holgas I had been using recently!
To get there, I had come down from southern Oregon into Winnemucca, NV. From there it was either 200 miles around through Reno, or 100 miles across the desert on a dirt road. For me, that isn’t a choice!
The road followed the desert along the south side. As I drove, I kept seeing large groupings of people out in the dry lake bed and thinking that that must be Burning Man, except I wasn’t far enough along and they would just vanish as I drove on. But when I did see it, I was blown away by the size of it! No, I didn’t think I was there, I knew I was there! I wondered how I would ever be able to see the whole place in a week—it was just huge!
As I rolled up to the gate, I was given a map and told to just find a place. Everyone there seemed very friendly and I started off down the road. Immediately, I noticed a nicely tanned young woman walking toward me in the middle of the road. She was wearing an unbuttoned white shirt and as the wind blew it open, I was reminded that I wasn’t in Portland anymore!
After a few false starts, I found a place to camp that felt right. As it turned out, there were 3 other guys camping there who were also first timers, owned their own businesses and all of us were about the same age (not the 20 something average). Parked right on the busy corner, one of the guys had an RV with a great awning and a misting system that would keep us cool the whole week. We could spend our people watching time right there. In fact, we became a rather popular stopping place since we obviously had the coolest spot around.
We would make several short ventures out into the heat of the day, either by ourselves or in groups, and then spend most of the evenings wandering. The incredible thing to me was what people actually brought out there and the work that must have gone into their various pieces of art, odd contraptions and theme camps. The installations on the playa were incredible and something that wasn’t there in the morning was there at noon and yet you couldn’t find it again that evening. In fact, there seemed to be places you could only find once and then, even though you knew they existed, couldn’t even find a trace of again.
The nights really came alive though. All of the theme camps would ramp up at night and there would be shows or performances or whatever. People would dress up in their finest (an awful lot of guys in women’s lingerie it seemed!), all kinds of odd mobile devices would show up (like a sofa complete with end table and lamp would be driving around) and everybody that had been holed up during the heat of the day would be out partaking in the sights and sounds. The night was also the time for the main events, including the burning of the man!
Photographically, I wanted to approach the goings on in a way that matched the spirit of the event. As I mentioned, the toy Holga seemed to offer the proper disrespect and cross processed film a perfect way to capture the bizarre nature of the place. My goal was to process out the film in such a way that one could feel the heat and excitement of the off balance reality that is Burning Man.
To see more go to my website: http://www.acurso.com and look at the category “At the Burn” under “Musings”