I’ve been documenting Burning Man for the past ten years. It’s without doubt one of the
world’s coolest and most mind-blowing gatherings. The event is a week-long celebration of
free-form creativity and radical self- expression held each summer in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.
Burning Man is tough to describe. It’s not quite an art festival, not quite a desert rave,
and not quite a social experiment—but something of all three.
Burning Man 2013
2013 was my tenth consecutive year at the event. Hard to believe. This time I shot on assignment for Rolling Stone. It was a wonderful gig. But the week seemed to go by too fast and there was simply too much I didn’t get to see and experience. To say nothing of the many friends I didn’t get a chance to spend time with. But so it goes. This set brings together 100 of my favorite images from Burning Man 2013. You can also find a collection of my photos (including a few repeats) at www.rollingstone.com. They appear in two sets, one focused on “The Scene” and the other devoted to “The People.” Some of my work is also featured on MSN this month in a special gallery called “Art Cars of Burning Man.”
Burning Man 2012
2012 was a wonderful year for photography despite several days of gusty winds, dust storms, and even rain. The light on the playa seemed to be constantly shifting and changing during the week of the event, offering up breathtaking perspectives of the Black Rock Desert I had never seen before. This time out I photographed on assignment for Rolling Stone. Though my images from Burning Man have been widely published, this was the first time I actually accepted an assignment before heading out to the event. It was immensely rewarding. In addition to my usual set of 100 images, you’ll find three slideshows of my work at www.rollingstone.com. I also cobbled together a gallery devoted specifically to the amazing art cars of 2012.
Burning Man 2011
Burning Man felt massive in 2011, from the huge crowds to the sheer size of Black Rock City—which was scaled up and was in fact so big that there were large parts of it I never got to see. There were many impressive art installations, wacky art cars, and mindblowing performances in 2011, but I found myself mostly drawn to the beautiful and creative people of Black Rock City. This is reflected in the sizable number of portraits in this set. My images from 2011 were perhaps my most widely viewed and published. Thanks to social media, the set went viral and generated almost a million unique visitors in the weeks immediately after the event. It was perhaps more than they deserved, but it reflects the growing significance of Burning Man as a cultural phenomenon.
Burning Man 2010
2010 marked the 24th anniversary of Burning Man, and it was bigger than ever—attendance shot up to a record 51,000 people. Many participants remember it as the year of Bliss Dance, Megatropolis (left) and the Temple of Flux. Personally, I think back to a freak thunderstorm on Monday afternoon, followed by a full five days of clear skies (cloudless skies, as any photographer will tell you, don’t make for especially interesting images). It was also a year of fabulous weddings and an unforgettable silent white procession. But the highlight for me was being hoisted up in a 40-foot boom lift on the night of the burn and looking down on a sea of 50,000 people as the man exploded in flames.
Burning Man 2009
2009 was my sixth year out and the first on the documentation team—Burning Man’s cadre of “official” photographers. It was a wonderful and amazing week, wind and dust notwithstanding. Attendance was down by over ten percent—a first in the festival’s 23-year history. It made for a smaller and somewhat more intimate event. There was also a sense among many I spoke with that the vibe was more low-key. That said, much of the art was world class, the performances first-rate, the outlandish fashions and silly costumes unforgettable, and the people of Black Rock City, well, more beautiful than ever. One of the most memorable moments for me was going up in a private plane just after sunrise one morning and surveying Black Rock City from 10,000 feet. Breathtaking, and more than a little surreal!
Burning Man 2008
My time at Burning Man 2008 lasted just four and a half days. While I got out as much as I could, staying out late every night and rising before dawn each morning, I came home with a relatively limited number of photos. It was a challenge to pull together 100 quality images. I considered posting a shortened set, but finally decided to go for the usual 100. It seemed like a good number and it followed what has become something of an annual ritual for me. Needless to say, there are some images that don’t stand out on their own but that do help tell a story, or convey the distinctive spirit of the event. And that, after all, is the point. The images work best when they capture the raw energy, the bawdy humor, the carefree sexuality, the bad taste, and above all, the sheer outrageous good fun of it all.
Burning Man 2007
The theme of Burning Man 2007 was the “Green Man.” It’s perhaps best remembered as the year the man burned five days ahead of schedule. I still regard it as one of the best years ever from the standpoint of photography. The art was massive and spectacular, the people endlessly beautiful and creative, and thanks to a rare tropical storm in the south, the skies were shifting, unpredictable, and perfect for photography. One day we had a sprinkling of rain followed by a double rainbow that people still speak radiantly about to this day. I shot about 1,700 photos in 2007. Some of them were lost. But there was enough for a photoessay, one that offered at least a small glimpe of the extraordinary art, the beautiful faces, and the brilliant colors of Black Rock City.
Burning Man 2006
In 2006, I returned to Burning Man with less of the frenzied enthusiasm and outlandish expectations of the year before. The goal, I decided, was simply to capture something of the beauty, the creativity, the exuberance and what I took to be the deeper personal significance of Burning Man. I abandoned the idea of capturing the event in any objective sense, favoring instead a more personal perspective, one more closely aligned with fine art photography than photojournalism. It was also the year I hit on a workable two-camera strategy for photographing the event, one that was flexible, relatively light, and spared me from having to make constant lens changes in a dusty and harsh environment. In retrospect, I consider it one my best years at Burning Man.
Burning Man 2005
2005 was my second year at Burning Man. The original plan 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 the phenomenon known as Burning Man. I only realized afterward how impossible that would be. I came home with about 1,500 photos and a whole notebook full of amazing quotes and stories. But mostly I returned with a sense of utter bewilderment. What to do with all the material? Looking over the photos, I decided 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. I selected 100 images, and left it at that. The format seemed to resonate, and it’s one I’ve kept to ever since.