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2006 marked the 20th anniversary of the Burning Man festival. What I love about the event is that it encourages people to give expression to their wildest dreams, their most whimsical ideas, their grandest — and often grandiose — artistic impulses. Burning Man embraces it all, saying, in effect, there is a place, right here in the middle of nowhere, where you can be whatever you want to be. The only condition is that you do it in the spirit of community and good fun.

The atmosphere of crazy unabashed creativity is like nothing I've seen anywhere else. The fact that it happens to take place in one of the starkest and most beautiful landscapes on earth only adds to the ambience of the event, lending it a surreal and sometimes otherworldly quality that can be a photographer's dream.

The photos in this collection represent a personal perspective on the event. Needless to say, it's not the whole story. Or even a small part. This year's photoessay follows the same approach and layout that I used in 2005, one that seemed to work well for my purposes. One hundred photos, arranged in sequence, that try to capture something of the beauty, the creativity, the exuberance and, at least for me, the deeper personal meaning of Burning Man.

This year, I shot about 1,500 frames over the course of seven days. I used two Canon digital SLRs, a 5D and a 20D, along with an assortment of lenses (a long and a short zoom, a fisheye, and a wide-aperture prime for portraits). I tried to avoid lens changes as much as possible as the dust tends to be a real problem on the playa, especially for digital SLRs.

My favorite time of day on the playa is the early morning. I'm not a morning person, but this year I got up each day at five to capture the light just before dawn. I'm convinced that watching the sun rise over the Black Rock Desert is one of life's most exquisite rewards.

This year I was dismayed to see so many photographers at the event. Not because there is anything wrong with photographers — they are artists too (hopefully) — but because Burning Man is about erasing the line between spectator and participant. It's only by immersing ourselves fully that we can experience all the event has to offer. We lose out in a big way by trying to see it all through a viewfinder.

But the problem with the cameras goes deeper. Photography can create an atmosphere where people feel objectified and self-conscious. Burning Man is about pulling out all the stops, going all the way, and saying "fuck it, just this once...." But how free can you be when ten guys are pointing big lenses in your face? It's a quandary and as a photographer I wrestled with it every day on the playa.

At Black Rock Roller Disco's fabulous "naked skate," an annual tradition on the final night of the event, the DJ demands that people put away the cameras. "You have to come to Burning Man to experience this," he tells the photographers. Exactly right — put away the cameras, get naked, and lace up those skates!

A special thank you to all those who allowed me to take their photograph this year. And to everyone who showed me their installations, invited me into their camps, took me out on their art cars, introduced me to friends, or otherwise took me in this year. Thanks also to Andie for helping me out in a pinch. I was especially grateful for new connections with Amber, Avo, Jeff, Mango, Mike, Jen, Janet, Lisa, David, Shira, Hannes, Phil, Ed, Lauren, Silvia, Jenny and Dan. Thank you all.

You can find more photos of mine, along with captions, in the Burning Man Image Gallery. Some of my images have also been featured in File Magazine. For last year's set, click here. And for some of my favorite galleries by other photographers, please follow the links on the upper left side of this page. Photos from the San Francisco Decompression are now online as well.

Back at camp. Photo by Bruce Bigenho. With Kristine at the roller disco. Photo by Jenny Huang.


Burning Man 2009

Burning Man 2008

Burning Man 2007

Burning Man 2005

Burning Man 2004

Faces of Black Rock City

SF Decompression 2006


Burning Man Image Gallery

James Duncan Davidson

Wendell DeLano

Steven Fritz

Carlos Avila Gonzalez

Lane Hartwell

Waldemar Horwat

Gabe Kirchheimer


Phil Steele

Philip Volkers