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The original plan this year was to create a photoessay — a journalistic piece combining images and text. My impulse was to try, in some small way, to make sense of this extraordinary thing called Burning Man. Part art festival, part social experiment, part love-fest, the weeklong event has become not just a countercultural phenomenon but a deeply personal and often life-altering experience for the 35,000-plus souls who gather each summer in Nevada's Black Rock Desert.

I knew I was in for a challenge. How does one capture the essence of an event like Burning Man? How can one possibly convey the sheer magnitude and spectacle of it with a few paltry words and images? I also had to contend with the question that confounds any real journalist: Was I willing to forego the experience of Burning Man by trying to stand apart from it and be a mere observer? Well, I thought, probably not. Though I drafted a couple of query letters and contacted some editors, I finally decided to simply go and have fun. I brought my cameras and a notebook, yes, but I wasn't "on assignment."

It was a good thing. After eight days on the playa, I returned with some 1,500 photos and a whole notebook full of remarkable quotes and stories. Mostly, I returned with a sense of bewilderment. What to do with all this material? How to faithfully represent the staggering creativity, the extraordinary energy and exuberance, the breathtaking weirdness, the strange and at times almost transcendent beauty, the shockingly bad taste, the spontaneous generosity, the caring, the abandon, the sweetness...

Looking over the photos, I felt that captions were probably extraneous. The best approach would be to simply let the images speak for themselves. As we know, no words can properly convey the experience of Burning Man to someone who has never been to the event. And for someone who has, words are hardly necessary. It was a tough decision because it meant cutting many amazing stories, brilliant quotes, and funny anecdotes.

I want to express my gratitude to all the beautiful and extraordinary people who shared their experiences with me, who talked about their best, worst, and most memorable moments on the playa, who showed me their tattoos, their camps, their art cars, their favorite installations, who posed for me or otherwise put up with me while I pointed a camera in their face, who kept in touch with me after the burn, who offered kind, constructive, and sometimes just critical comments. Thank you all.

You can find some additional photos of mine, along with captions, in the Burning Man Image Gallery

The photos were shot with a Canon EOS 20D and a Canon Digital Rebel XT, with an assortment of lenses.


On the playa in 2005.

MORE PHOTOS BY
SCOTT LONDON:

Burning Man Photography

OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS:

Burning Man Image Gallery

Gabe Kirchheimer

Patrick Roddie

Jared Mechaber

Margot Duane

Waldemar Horwat

Jeanne Hemhauser-Ricci

Tristan Savatier

Pmatt Freedman