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Burning Man 2017

Over the last three decades, Burning Man has gone from a fringe countercultural experiment—one started by a handful of renegade artists and performers on Baker Beach in San Francisco—to a cultural phenomenon that now draws some 70,000 people to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert each year.

For all the talk about Burning Man going mainstream, it still represents something unique and extraordinary—a weeklong celebration of freeform creativity and radical self-expression. The event takes place in a temporary “city” some five miles wide that rises out of the dry lakebed for a week only to vanish again after the event is over. For a few brief days, the ephemeral metropolis known as Black Rock City ranks among the largest communities in the state of Nevada.

Ilumina, and art installation at Burning Man 2017

Ilumina

It’s a place of breathtaking diversity—a coming together of freethinking artists, dancers, performers, DJs, musicians, designers, and exhibitionists of every stripe. It’s also a place of whimsical art installations, startlingly decorated art cars, pulsating soundscapes and wacky theme camps, all set against an uncommonly beautiful natural backdrop.

I’ve been attending Burning Man for over a decade now. The experience never gets old. If anything, the enchantment and mystery seem to deepen a little each year. Some people complain that Burning Man gets a little less fun each time. I understand the sentiment—and sometimes share it (mostly when I’m hungover, sleep-deprived, dehydrated, or all three at once). But the fact is that the essential spirit of the event remains unchanged and that each trip out to the desert is, in some deep sense, restorative.

Like any creative project, my Burning Man photography has evolved over the years. But the basic impulse is still the same as it was at the beginning—to try in some small way to capture the creativity, the beauty, the wacky humor, the startling originality, and the sheer outrageous good fun of the event. I’m always gratified when non-burners appreciate the photos, but my primary goal is to share them with those who were there and, to whatever extent I can, contribute a little creativity of my own to the overall experience.

Give me the splendid silent sun

“Give me the splendid silent sun with all his beams full-dazzling.”

A few technical notes. This year I shot close to 6,000 frames over the course of 7 days. As in previous years, I used a combination of four cameras, all Canon DSLRs. I used just four lenses this time around, one zoom and three primes (the 16-35mm f/2.8, the 35mm f/1.4, the 85mm f/1.2, and the 135mm f/2). This wasn’t my plan going in. I brought about ten lenses with me to the event. But I found myself preferring the simplicity (and light weight) of the primes. Each of them is also unique in the way it handles light and creates soft, diffused backgrounds.

If you’re a photographer, it may surprise you to learn that nearly half the frames I shot this year were taken with the 16-35mm ultra-wide zoom. It was the lens mounted on my 5D Mark IV, which I had strapped over my shoulder everywhere I went for seven straight days. Over the years, I’ve been shifting toward wider and wider focal lengths. I think it makes for more interesting compositions, and it’s certainly more challenging (and therefore more rewarding) to work with.

I get a lot of questions about my gear and people wonder how I protect it in such a harsh environment. The short answer is that I don’t. This year, as in previous years, the cameras were fully exposed to the heat and dust all week. The key, I’ve found, is to use professional equipment with a degree of resistance to harsh weather and to avoid lens changes. I swear by my Canon equipment. In over a decade of shooting with it at Burning Man, I’ve never had any failures to speak of.

The man goes up in flames

This year, I’d like to extend a special thank you to Duncan Rawlinson and Jeremy Guillory for their friendship, creativity and support. Thanks also to my beautiful campmates Quickdraw and Jazzy who not only helped build the temple this year and create a fabulous art car but somehow had energy left over to organize and manage a small camp too. I’m also grateful to my friend and collaborator Philippe Meicler, and his wife Ghislaine, and to Bobby Pin and the rest of the Documentation Team (it was my ninth year as part of the crew).

This was a challenging year in some respects. The intense heat took its toll on all of us, for one thing. I lost my bike toward the end of the week. (Was it stolen, or just “borrowed”?). As a photographer, this created serious logistical problems for me. But at Burning Man it seems like there are always 70,000 people standing at the ready to give you a helping hand.

As always, I’m especially 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. It takes a special patience to put up with tiresome photographers sticking their equipment in your face—pointing lenses at your tattoos, your necklaces, your derriere. I don’t take that permission for granted. My art, such as it is, wouldn’t be possible without that open consent and participation. So thank you.

Check out 100 of my favorite images from Burning Man 2017 here

Braving the dust at Burning Man 2017. Photo by the great John Curley

Live Q&A at the Press Room

We had a good turnout for the opening of my photography exhibit “Fire and Dust” at the Press Club in Monterey last week. The event included a live interview with Bradley Zeve of the Monterey County Weekly and some great questions from the audience.

Thanks to Bradley for hosting and moderating the discussion (and for the thoughtful questions) and to Jack Peterson of the Media Center for Art Education and Technology for taping the event for broadcast (to be aired on MCAET throughout March and April — check listings here).

Below is an edited 51-minute video of our conversation.

Exhibition in Telluride

 

This week I’ll be in Colorado exhibiting my work at the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art. The show opens on Thursday with an artist reception. I’ll also be signing copies of the newly published Second Edition of Burning Man: Art on Fire at Between the Covers, the local bookseller and café.

The gallery show coincides with the annual Telluride Fire Festival, now in its third year. The event is billed as a community celebration of excellence in interactive fire arts. It runs three nights and features huge, interactive, fire-emitting art installations, world-class fire performers, fire spinning workshops, and other activities. Should be quite a party.

I spoke about the exhibition with Cara Pallone of KOTO Public Radio. You can hear the 7-minute interview here:

If you’re in or near Telluride, make a point of checking out the festival and please stop in at the gallery reception. Here are the details: Scott London Artist Reception at the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art.

Trajectoire

The current issue of Swiss magazine Trajectoire features a ten-page feature about my Burning Man photography. Most of the images were taken this past year (including two taken with collaborator Philippe Meicler). The spread also includes a write-up by Aline Lalliard that describes Burning Man and delves into some biographical stuff about me. Freely translated from the French, the intro reads:

“For over a decade, Burning Man has come to life through the lens of American photographer Scott London. Fascinated by this annual paean to creativity, he says he’s drawn in by the sheer beauty of the art, the people and the desert backdrop. With images suffused with emotion and humanity, he evokes the essence of an event that defies convention.”

Beautifully put, and a lovely compliment. My thanks to Lalliard and the editors at Trajectoire.

Here’s a thumbnail glance at the other eight pages in the spread:

Burning Man 2016

Burning Man 2016 by Scott London

I’m still shaking off the dust and getting my bearings after an intense but beautiful week at Burning Man 2016. We were blessed with beautiful skies and gorgeous light for much of the week, but also winds and dust—lots and lots of dust, as you can see in this shot of my cameras.

This year I had the pleasure of working with CNN on a feature about the art cars of Burning Man. The piece includes 20 of my photos of mind-blowing and otherworldly creations (like El Pulpo Mecanico, below, the flame-throwing octopus on wheels by artist Duane Flatmo) along with an article by Stephy Chung and a Q&A in which I talk about my fascination with these vehicles and the artists who created them.

Check out Burning Man’s Mutant Vehicles Eat Dust…and People? (See also Boing Boing and Gearheads 4 Life for additional commentary on the photos and the art cars.)

Last month saw the publication of a new and expanded edition of our book Burning Man: Art on Fire (with Jennifer Raiser and Sidney Erthal). The first edition, which came out in 2014, went through several printings, garnered excellent reviews, and—to our amazement—even topped the Amazon bestseller lists in several categories.

It made sense to issue a second edition—to bring it up to date, yes, but also to rectify some of the mistakes and omissions from the first edition.

Like the first edition of the book, the new version was a collaborative effort in every sense. It means that my own creative input was limited. But the book does contain a lot of my images—about 150 by my count—so, for better or worse, it reflects a perspective on the event refracted through my own particular lens.

If you’re interested in more of my reflections on why I love making pictures at Burning Man, check out this 3-minute video clip produced by Discovery’s This Happened Here. I also say more about my Burning Man photography in an in-depth interview made last year with the magazine Pocko Times.

This year, I shot a total of about 5,000 frames over the course of 6 days. What was different this year? A telephoto lens I had formerly relied on quite heavily—Canon’s 70-200mm f/2.8 L—never got used this time around. It was a conscious, and I think quite successful, attempt to get a little closer to the action.

This year, I worked closely with Philippe Meicler, a wonderful French videographer, to capture an aerial perspective of Burning Man. If you like my still images shot with a drone, be sure to check out his amazing 5-minute video here. Special thanks to Philippe and his lovely wife, Ghislaine—a great photographer in her own right (you can view her images from the event here.)

This year, I’d also like to extend a special thank you Jonathan Gavzer, Mike Calabrese, Duncan Rawlinson, George Post, Maria Partridge, and especially my campmates Jeremy and Jazzy for taking such good care of me as I was nursing a pesky shoulder injury. I very nearly left the event at the beginning of the week because of the pain. I opted to stay in the end, in no small part thanks to their care, support and encouragement.

Check out this year’s photos here: Burning Man 2016

Photographer Scott London on his bike at Burning Man 2016

On my bike at Burning Man 2016. (Photo by Duncan Rawlinson)