Depending on who you ask, you'll end up with all sorts of answers about what Burning Man is, so it becomes really hard to describe. Especially because (as you'll see) it's a place of intense sensory overload, in the best possible way. There's no way to do, or even see, everything, even in a whole week. Some people go for the live music, other go for the party; I go for the amazing sense of community, the art, and the costumes! It's a place of unbridled creativity - there are art installations, performance art, bumper cars, swing sets, firebreathers, elaborate costumes, and giant vehicles shaped like snails or chickens or yachts just casually, slowly cruising around a dry lake bed.
Most people live in costume all week, and as a portrait photographer, that's one of my favorite parts. Everyone gets around the city by bike, and most bikes are totally blinged out, decorated, and lit up to help you distinguish your bike from everyone else's. The only other vehicles that are allowed in Black Rock City are art cars (also called mutant vehicles). They cruise around very slowly like crazy parade floats, and offer rides to people going by. This year, we made one! We made a royal carrying chair (also called a sedan chair / palanquin / litter) and offered rides to people.
Burning Man takes place in the middle of the desert, so conditions are always pretty extreme, but this year was especially dusty. I didn't shoot as much as I was wanting to, because bringing out my nice camera in the middle of intensely blowing dust storms didn't seem like the best idea. Most people wear face masks and goggles (or at least keep them with them) to protect against the blowing dust, which is less like sand and more like a really fine talcum powder. It gets EVERYWHERE.
Since there are so many people biking around at night in the middle of nowhere, it's really important to keep yourself and your bike lit up, so people don't accidentally run into you. Although this is done for practical reasons, many people incorporate the lights into their bike decorations or costumes. The city at night is awesome, and overwhelming - there's always a thousand things flashing, blinking, moving, playing music. Every art car plays different music as they drive by, and some have DJs and dance floors on board. It's just complete neon chaos.
This giant table and chairs also served as the Stilt Bar for all of the people on stilts to meet at, which of course looked amazing, and of course was the day I left my cameras back at camp.
In the Center Camp area you can buy coffee and ice... but other than that, nothing is allowed to be bought or sold (or even traded). Individuals, and camps, often give things away to the community : french toast, tamales, classes, coffee and drinks. We listened to TED talks and took an awesome lockpicking class - so fun.
This old fashioned TV set art car was one of my favorites: all the riders inside were pretending to be hosting a talk show as they drove by :)
It's absolutely huge: the first time I went, I was totally unprepared for the scale. I think this year, we had around 75,000 people? It's a fully functioning city, complete with street names, neighborhoods, and alleys - being a part of a pop-up city that's almost 40 times the size of your hometown is a crazy experience. All of this goes up for a week in the desert, and then comes down. When you try to bike across the city, it takes forever - not just due to distance, but also due to the fact that there's something insanely cool around every corner and you just keep stopping to check things out :) It feels a little like a refugee camp at times: cars, RVs, and tents lined up in the dust.
This cabin was actually a moving art car as well: the front half that you see in this photo is a front porch; the back half is an open cross-section of an Appalachian cabin kitchen, complete with working oven. They were giving away chocolate chip cookies, hot out of the oven, while cruising around the dry lake bed.
There's a lot of post-apocalyptic / Mad Max culture, I think because you have to have bit of a survivalist mindset in the desert. You have to pack in all of your food for the week... and all of your water. If you want electricity, you have to bring it. Since there's nowhere to buy or sell anything, you have to make sure you're prepared to survive a week in the desert on your own, which brings out the inner Mad Max in a lot of people :) Lots of flame throwers. There's even a functioning Thunderdome where people fight each other (with foam swords).
There's also a replica of a full city block of Bourbon Street in New Orleans. A flaming tuba band plays in the middle of the street; people throw Mardi Gras beads from the upper balconies, and some of the shops on the lower levels serve free gumbo.
This is the Temple - it's new and different every year. People bring photos of loved ones lost, mementos of things they want to let go of, and write on the wooden walls with Sharpie. It's a beautiful, but very heavy, place. Many people step inside and start crying almost immediately after reading the notes people have written to those they've lost. At the end of the week, the Temple is set on fire and everyone gathers around to watch it all burn.
Yeah nights are just crazy.
These are all art cars waiting in line to register at the DMV - the Department of Mutant Vehicles.
Most of the art installations like the Temple and the other buildings, are ceremoniously set ablaze at the end of the week: very good reminders that everything is temporary, that creativity is endless, that we will rebuild and recreate again next year. Huge crowds gather to watch everything burn. This vibrant city begins to dismantle itself.