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 News: Scott 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.
“Celebrating our heritage” can mean different things. For some, it’s all about confetti and sombreros, fish tacos and flamenco performances. For others, it’s about the pride of being a fourth or fifth-generation Californian. The kids, for their part, mostly love an excuse to dress up and parade down State Street.
For the complete set of images from Fiesta 2013, click here.
Each year at the end of June, Santa Barbara, California, officially kicks off summer with a three-day Solstice Celebration. The highlight of the event is a downtown parade known for its whimsical floats, colorfully-costumed stiltwalkers, goofy performance artists, Brazilian drummers, and giggling kids donning masks, costumes, and painted faces—to say nothing of the amazing samba dancers wearing feathers and sequins and not much else. The annual event got its start in 1974 and now attracts about 100,000 spectators and some 1,000 participants from near and far. Here are some of my photos from this year’s festivities.
Donning a colorful solstice-themed head-piece, Mr. Sunshine led the way up State Street.
Hilary Kleger was one of many beautiful dancers in the Hip Brazil dance troupe. Their elaborate headpieces and sexy sequined outfits conjured up images of the Rio Carneval.
Panzumo, a high-energy drum and dance ensemble led by Lisa Beck (center), are longtime favorites at the Solstice Parade.
Unicyclist Robert Bernstein has been a part of the Solstice Parade since 1985.
Taking inspiration from the 2013 theme “Creatures,” Emiliano Campobello played the part of a character from Avatar.
All you need to participate, as twins Arran and Ethan will tell you, is some face-paint and neon hair dye.
Hip Brazil dancer Naomi Broomberg.
Hip Brazil dancer Missy Butler.
Dancers dressed as winged mermaids? Why not, it’s a solstice party!
Hungarian-born artist Pali-X-Mano is known for his eye-popping inflatable sculptures. This year’s creation was a giant 30-foot “solar creature” with aerial dancers inside. The float barely fit under the tree canopy of State Street.
Hoopers Lindsey Mickelson and Veronika Petra.
Some of my images from the 2012 Solstice Celebration were featured on CNN last week. Check out Seven Strange and Wonderful Ways You Celebrate the Summer Solstice
For more of my photos from the Solstice festivities, go to:
- The complete set of photos from Solstice 2013
- Photos from the 2012 Solstice Parade
- Photos from the 2011 Solstice Parade
- Photos from the 2010 Solstice Parade
- Photos from the 2009 Solstice Parade
I Madonnari was the name given to street painters in 16th- and 17th-century Italy, itinerant artists who traveled from town to town and city to city rendering images of the Madonna on sidewalks and in public squares. Like street musicians, the “Madonna painters” supported themselves by small donations—usually coins thrown to them by appreciative passers-by and festival-goers. Using chalks and handmade pastels, the artists sometimes created works of remarkable majesty and scale. But the art was always ephemeral, vanishing with the first rain.
Today, the tradition of street painting lives on in cities across Europe and in a growing number of communities in North America. 2013 marked the 27th anniversary of the I Madonnari Festival in Santa Barbara, California. When it started in 1987, it was the only street painting event of its kind in the United States. Today, the three-day event, held each Memorial Day weekend in the plaza in front of Santa Barbara’s historic mission, draws crowds of 25,000 or more from around the world. The art ranges from small chalk drawings by local artists to large-scale street murals by nationally recognized street painters. There is also a special chalk-drawing area for young artists.
I Madonnari is a fundraiser for the Children’s Creative Project, an innovative program that provides visual and performing arts education to public schools in and around Santa Barbara. At a time when arts education has been all but eliminated from school budgets, entrepreneurial communities have to take matters into their own hands. The I Madonnari Festival represents one of the more successful such initiatives—a community-building effort aimed at both making art and ensuring its survival in the local school system.
The 2013 festival just wrapped up. Yesterday, as the artists were putting the finishing touches on their work, a wild fire broke out in the mountains behind Santa Barbara. The skies filled with smoke and ash, partially obscuring the sun, as seen in the image above. For more of my photos from the event, you’ll find a collection here.
I was back at the Salton Sea a few weeks ago and was stunned to see how quickly it’s drying up. Experts say the water level is currently dropping about seven inches per year. It may not seem like much, but it means the shoreline is receding fast, especially along the north and south shores.
The photos above were taken five years apart, almost to the day. As you can see in the bottom image, the water line has moved quite a distance in that short period of time. Elsewhere along the shore, homes that used to be on the lakefront are now hundreds of feet away from the water.
To say that the Salton Sea is an ecological problem would be an understatement. It’s more like a catastrophe. Dwindling inflows and rising salinity represent a very serious public health problem facing southern California. We’re also looking at the loss of one of North America’s most important migratory bird refuges.
The Salton Sea has been neglected for years, but the Obama administration recently earmarked $200,000 to study the situation and come up with a series of restoration proposals. It’s not much, but it’s a start. It means that perhaps there is enough political will to halt, if not exactly reverse, the process of environmental devastation.
I’ve been documenting the decline of the Salton Sea for several years now. I’ve gathered a collection of thirty photographs in a series titled “Vanishing Oasis.” You can view the images here.