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Burning Man: The Sequel

It’s been one year since my initiation to alternate universe that is Burning Man. Burning Man, the convocation of 50,000 souls committed to radical self-expression. Self-expression that looks an awful lot like Halloween.

In case you’re new to the Burning Man concept, a crash course is in order. You’ll find it on my blog post from last year: Memoir of a Burner. More photos from last year are here.

But first we had to get there. After a long two-day drive, my road-trip partner, Tony, and I arrived on the Playa. Since we had a themed camp - Camp Photon - we got to set up a day before everyone else arrived. Most of the sites were completely vacant and the madness had yet to start. The first morning, was perfect. Cool with a light wind.

Things went downhill from there. We set up in the wrong spot so we had to load up the RV and move it. Not only was it a lot of work, but we lost the benefit of setting up in the cool morning air. Instead, we got stuck setting up in the full heat and sun.

By the late afternoon, the winds picked up. Setting up the big carport shade structures wasn’t easy for two guys struggling against the wind. The rest of our gang wasn’t scheduled to show up for another day so the work fell on myself and Tony. The worst part was that we set up one the wrong way so we had to take it down and set it up again. We didn’t actually get anywhere til around 2:00 in the afternoon - after starting at 6:00 in the morning.

By then, the wind really started to blow and the dust kicked up. A whiteout soon followed. It wasn’t to be the last either.

Then the rest of the gang showed up. Parker Pfister from North Carolina drove in with a friend.

I thought that John Michael Cooper wasn’t going to show after his motorhome conked out at him back at home in Las Vegas. But he rallied and drove out by himself. Nick Adams - who kept us entertained with his guitar - playing drove up from Southern Utah. (Nick was the guitar player in the 80’s punk band MIA.) Photographers Chris Becker and Keats Elliot came up from Southern California.

Here’s JMC before I handed him a couple of my patented tequila playa ghetto margaritas. He had a good time until he went down for the count.

I was eager to pick up where I left off from last year so out onto the playa I went in search of interesting people to photograph. It’s fun scanning the endless parade of ravers, hippies, tatooists, nudists, freaks, and plain ol’ normal people to see who would make for an interesting portrait.

It was this boy’s fourth (or fifth) Burn.

Business casual at Burning Man.

Before too long, the wind picked up (again) and the dust clouds grew so I wrapped things up. Instead, I shifted to just roaming the camps looking for a good time. And a pair of long legs.

I love this image. It captures so perfectly the free-spirited party atmosphere that’s around every corner.

This image reminds me of photos from the summer of love. It’s 1969 out on the playa every year.

Time on the playa moves at a different pace from home. Not only was it hot - the dust this year kicked up pretty much every day. After an hour or two in the unrelenting sun and inhaling playa dust, it was time to relax in the shade to cool off. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing most afternoons which meant that we retired to the decadent comfort of our cluttered, but air conditioned motor home.

Looking back, I felt like I didn’t see a lot or do that much. The problem is that it’s hard to always be doing something in the heat and dust. This is the man to be burned in the midst of yet another dust storm. He’s about 60-70 feet high for perspective.

One of the highlights of last year’s Burning Man was Thunderdome - a big cage where combatants pummel each other with foam covered bats. This year, I made it in time to catch the final fight of the night. Unfortunately, I never made it back.

One of the highlights of the trip was heading out onto the playa with Parker Pfister. We traded off getting shots. He’s a kindred spirit in the creative department. He set this shot up. As he was shooting from another position, I saw this angle. Once he was done shooting, I moved the light and got the shot. I guess you can say it was a collaboration.

Parker and I both shot this scene. His take was completely different than mine. You wouldn’t even recognize the two locations as being the same. That’s what’s great about shooting with someone who has their own point of view and doesn’t try to imitate others.

Then there’s nighttime on the playa. The esplanade becomes a shantytown Las Vegas - the fantastic structures come to life with light and color.

Then there’s the temple. Not sure what its a temple to. I think we just give it our own meaning. It’s a fantastic construction of pre-cut wood that’s joined on site. Like everything else, it’s temporary. On the final Sunday, it gets burned.

Sunrise on the playa. As the raves shut down, the all-night partiers head over to the temple to catch the sun’s first rays. Here’s my buddy Joe “Photo” Paulsevic at first light.

This woman standing motionless provided the symmetry that I wanted to make this shot work.

Visitors left inscriptions all over the temple. Many were to loved ones - both dead and alive. This to me was the most moving. It’s short but it it opens up all kinds of stories.

That’s it for this year.

John

5 Responses to “Burning Man: The Sequel”

  1. Michael Tyler Says:

    Fantastic, John. I remember your post last year and glad to see more.

  2. Phil Steele Says:

    John, once again, great photos from the playa! I’d love to know what kind of light setup you’re using in the lit shots. So far I haven’t been ambitious enough to haul the lighting gear out on the playa, but I’m considering at least using a shoe-corded speelite or the equivalent this year. BTW I just put up a “Best of Burning Man” on my own BM photo site, kind of a Greatest Hits from my 8 years shooting on the playa. You can see it at http://www.burnmonkey.com/

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Mike Says:

    Amazing collection of photos and great storytelling. It was great to meet you!

  4. laureen Says:

    wow…just wow. I think I would love to go…but I’m a bit afraid as well!

  5. Hilary Helton Says:

    Ridiculous… these are just crazy good. Thanks for sharing them!

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