Burning Man 2013 : Cargo Cult

A Decade of Burning Man Photography

I’m back from an enchanting week at Burning Man. It was my tenth consecutive year, which seems hard to believe. 2013 marked the 27th anniversary of the event and it was more massive than ever. The sheer energy and intensity seems to have been ramped up several notches this year. One of the most common refrains on the playa was that the party seemed to be in full swing even before the gates opened. Many of us felt as if we barely caught our breath all week and came home more ragged than usual. But what a beautiful week it was!

Last year I shot on assignment for RollingStone.com and I was happy for the chance to do that again this time. The editors were wonderful to work with and gave me wide latitude to cover the event much as I’ve always done. They published two slideshows of 25 images each — one focusing on the installations, the art cars, and the event as a whole (Burning Man 2013: The Scene), and the other devoted to the beautiful and amazing faces of Black Rock City (Burning Man 2013: The People).

People have been asking me whether the Rolling Stone editors or I myself picked the final selection of images. The answer is both: I sent them about 80 photos and they narrowed it down to 50. I found it interesting that they passed on a lot of the usual Burning Man stuff, like aerial photos of Black Rock City, twilight shots of the temple, and the man engulfed in flames. I guess those have become something of a cliché at this point. Which can only mean that for better or worse Burning Man is now part of the cultural mainstream.

In addition to working for Rolling Stone, I’ve teamed up with fellow photographer Sidney Erthal and writer Jennifer Raiser, both dear friends, on a book that’s slated for publication next summer. It will be a richly illustrated coffee table book with some trenchant writing (and extensive captions) devoted to Burning Man as a cultural phenomenon.

One of the highlights of the week was having our book editor fly in from New York to experience Burning Man for a few days (something I wish more assignment editors would do!). Seeing her take it all in for the first time helped me to remember a time ten years ago when it was all new to me. It also helped me to see the event with greater objectivity.

This was also my fifth year on the Burning Man documentation team, a small group of photographers invited to capture the event for the organization. Every year we set out to document the full range of art installations, theme camps, mutant vehicles, and scheduled performances. The task seemed more impossible than usual given the scale of the event this year. But we gave it our best.

My photography has changed and evolved over the decade that I’ve been shooting at Burning Man. But the basic impulse has remained the same — to try in some small way to capture the beauty, the creativity, the whimsy, the madness and the sheer outrageous good fun of it all. I’m always gratified when non-burners appreciate the photos, but my primary goal has always been to share them with those who were there and, to whatever extent I can, contribute a little of my own creativity to the mix.

As in previous years, I shot all the images using a pair of trusty Canon DSLRs. If you’re interested in the equipment I carry, have a look at What’s In the Camera Bag. I shot about 4,000 frames over the course of a week. Just two days into the event, I broke my primary lens — the 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom. It was brand new and I had purchased it specifically for shooting on the playa, so this was a setback. It meant that I had to adopt a somewhat different lens strategy than I’m used to, shooting “wide” and “long,” instead of “normal.” You can judge the results and tell me what you think.

I get a lot of questions about my gear and how I protect it in such a harsh environment. The answer is I don’t. I think people spend too much time worrying about heat and dust. For an interesting discussion about this, have a look at the thread on Flickr titled How do you keep your camera from getting dusty at Burning Man? See also playa photographer Curious Josh’s Short Camera Tips for Burning Man.

For more on my Burning Man photography — what first inspired me to get into it, how my approach has evolved over the years, and what gear I use — you can read an interview I did a while back with Paul Caridad Sanchez in Visual NewsScott London Captures the Magic at Burning Man. Another couple of interviews appear in It’s Nice That and Ignite.me.

As always, I’m grateful to the many wonderful people of Burning Man who freely consented to let me photograph them in the act of dancing, stilt-walking, hooping, making art, or simply being beautiful. I don’t take that permission for granted. It requires a special patience to put up with tiresome photographers sticking their equipment in your face — pointing lenses at your tattoos, your necklaces, your derriere. My art, such as it is, would not be possible without that open consent and participation. So thank you.

Here’s a set of 100 personal favorites from this year: Burning Man 2013.

 

Jesusita Fire

The Jesusita Fire took almost everyone by surprise when it began on the afternoon of May 5. It’s the third major wildfire in Santa Barbara in just nine months, and many here are still recovering from the devastating Tea Fire last November.

The blaze is still out of control and details are sketchy, but we know that dozens of homes have already been lost. I witnessed some of them go up in flames myself before being forced out by the authorities.

Here are some of my photos:

Jesusita Fire

This image was taken from Painted Cave Road at 3:30 p.m. on May 5, just a couple of hours after the fire began. The trail of the smoke shows the typical sundowner pattern — blowing across the city and out to sea, just as the devastating Gap and Tea fires did last year.

Jesusita Fire

The Jesusita Fire burns in the hills above Santa Barbara, California. Taken from Camino Cielo in the late afternoon on May 5, 2009. The small black dot in the center is a fixed wing aircraft surveying the hotspots.

Jesusita Fire

Smoke and ash darken the sky above Santa Barbara as night falls on day one of the fire.

Jesusita Fire

On the evening of the first day, the fire was still confined to a relatively small area of less than 200 acres, as seen in this long exposure taken from Elings Park.

Jesusita Fire

Thick smoke drifts out over the city on the second day of the fire, as seen in this shot from Las Tunas Road on the Riviera.

Jesusita Fire

The flames rage in the hills perilously close to Santa Barbara’s historic mission. It seems fitting that local firefighters and police would use the spot as an ad hoc staging ground.

Jesusita Fire

Santa Barbara County firefighters gather at the mission to plan their next assault as the fire continues its spread east and south toward the city.

Jesusita Fire

Fanned by strong winds, flames and smoke wreak havoc in the densely populated neighborhood above Foothill Road, just west of Mission Canyon Road.

Jesusita Fire

Huge flames ravage the foothills above Mountain Drive.

Jesusita Fire

Putrid smoke and ash choked the skies and obscured the sun, bathing the city in an eerie red light.

Jesusita Fire

A chopper dumps water over a structure burning on Mountain Drive.

Jesusita Fire

Intense sundowner winds scatter and fan the flames, as seen in this photo taken from Stanwood Drive.

Jesusita Fire

The size and sheer force of the inferno was staggering.

Jesusita Fire

A terrifying firestorm erupts in the hills above Mission Canyon.

Jesusita Fire

A palm tree scorched in the recent Tea Fire stands on a now vacant lot on Conejo Road, as smoke and ash from the new Jesusita Fire darken the skies above.

Jesusita Fire

The eastern edge of the Jesusita Fire was still burning out of control late on Wednesday night. This photo was taken on Ortega Ridge Road in Summerland.

Jesusita Fire

Strong offshore winds continued to fan the flames of the Jesusita Fire above Santa Barbara, as seen in this image taken at Elings Park.

Jesusita Fire

Intense smoke and ash covered the city of Santa Barbara as the Jesusita Fire continued to burn on several fronts on Wednesday night.

Jesusita Fire

Relatively calm winds during the morning and afternoon of day three kept the Jesusita Fire confined mainly to the mountains near Cathedral Peak.

Jesusita Fire

As the afternoon wore on, the winds intensified and fanned the flames westward.

Jesusita Fire

A dark plume of drift smoke could be seen all the way to Ventura and beyond. This photo was taken from Carpinteria at 6:30 p.m. just as the sundowner winds kicked up and stoked the fires anew.

Jesusita Fire

Strong early evening winds fanned the flames and sent black smoke into the skies above Santa Barbara. This image was shot from Ortega Hill at sunset.

Jesusita Fire

As the sun set on the third day of the Jesusita Fire, the sky turned ominously red and ash started falling like snowflakes. The palmettos on Channel Drive can be seen bending in the strong wind.

Jesusita Fire

By 9:00 o’clock on Thursday, the fire was raging out of control across a wide swath of the Santa Barbara foothills, from San Roque Canyon to the east all the way to Highway 154 to the west.

Jesusita Fire

The Jesusita Fire continued to burn in Santa Barbara on Friday, though lower temperatures and relatively calm winds kept the flames confined mainly to the hills above the city. After sunset, the skies were still dark with drift smoke and ash, as seen in this image taken from Butterfly Beach.

Jesusita Fire

By Friday evening, the Jesusita Fire had consumed 8,400 acres and cut a swath some five miles wide from the ridges above Montecito all the way to Painted Cave.

Jesusita Fire

The Jesusita Fire continued to rage in the hills above Montecito on Friday evening.

Jesusita Fire

Flames from the Jesusita Fire lit up the evening sky above Santa Barbara on Friday evening, as seen in this image taken at the Andree Clark Bird Refuge.

Nobel Peace Prize 2007

Al Gore and the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shared the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007. They were in Oslo last month to accept the award and take part in three full days of festivities. The Nobel events coincided with the climate conference in Bali, which made the coverage particularly interesting and timely this year. Rarely has the international spotlight been focused more intently on the question of global warming.

In his Nobel acceptance speech, Al Gore drew a parallel between leaders who ignore the climate crisis and those who failed to act as Nazi Germany rearmed before World War II. “Too many of the world’s leaders are still best described in the words Winston Churchill applied to those who ignored Adolf Hitler’s threat: ‘They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent,'” Gore said. He likened the current “planetary emergency” to wartime. “We must quickly mobilize our civilization with the urgency and resolve that has previously been seen only when nations mobilized for war.” Strong words. A powerful lecture.

It was my fifth year covering the Oslo events. More photos and text here.