Every year, tens of thousands of people from around the world gather in the pale, dusty desert of Black Rock City, Nevada to celebrate art and music, creativity, originality, spirituality... and the extremely weird. Burning Man is by far one of my favorite places on Earth, and I use the word “Earth” lightly. Surrounded by commanding mountains whose faces in the shadows of its crevices transform with the light of the day (or a tab of acid), the “Playa” is like another planet, another realm or dimension.
During the week-long festival, people are encouraged to be completely themselves, meaning if you want to ride around on a unicycle naked, with nipple clamps attached to your armpits and a headdress made of dildos—you can. And you will probably get lots of hugs and maybe some free pita and hummus for it. It is the one place where you definitely will not get bullied for being a complete weirdo; you will get praised, appreciated and admired.
Even after my 4th Burn, I still am awestruck and giddy by the beauty of this place, and not just by its physical splendor, but by its generous inclusiveness of mankind. Burning Man seems to unite a massive concentration of personalities from around the world who actually care about others, who want to share, create, spectate and appreciate. Although the model of survival in Black Rock City is built on radical self-reliance, if you were to arrive completely naked, shelterless, lacking food and water, you would find a way to be taken care of, have the best week of your life and you might even score a plate of sushi from one of the rich camps.
In this socially-bizarre era of hashtags, virtual dating and digital oversharing that we live in, going to Burning Man is a freeing experience, full of real, physical encounters with interesting people, spiritual discoveries and self-exploration. It is the one place you can escape the mundane realities of the ‘default world,’ act like a kid at Six Flags, have deep interactions with the Universe through music, connecting with others, and maybe through psychedelic drugs. People are open, people are loving and they are without judgment. Welcome to what life in the real world should be like. Welcome to the possible future.
One of the most special places on the Playa is the Burning Man Temple. Every year, a new architectural design is erected and placed in the same location relative to the Man and the central strip. Burners tend to spend a lot of time meditating, sharing memories of passed loved ones, crying, sleeping, and catching the epic sherbet sunrises in and around the Temple gates. Truthfully, I’ve never in my life felt more intense energy than that which emanates from its central shrine. Upon entering the Temple, you are immediately blasted with an intense, warm, wholesome vibration that pours into your entire being, the way you would feel dipping into a hot bath, and you don’t need to be high or psychic to feel it.
Twenty-four hours at Burning Man means you will probably encounter lots of things your dreams and nightmares are made of: half-naked clowns, a herd of people in animal onesies, hot girls with feather mohawks, a wind-up teeth car, a giant sea-saw, lots and lots of naked people, a really long slip and slide, a roller disco, a life size Pacman car, a pirate ship, a moving bridge, a shark bus, unicorns, fairies, cookie monsters, orgies, hugging dens and even Ted Talks. The only thing that would seem out of place would have been a group of preppy blonds sporting Polo shirts, loafers and pastel sweaters around their necks. They would be from Camp Cod. Someone please steal this idea for next year.
Unless you’ve experienced it, the Saturday night ceremony when the Man burns is an event you could never possibly envision, even if you were George Lukas. A 70,000 person party encircled around a “gigantatron” fire proceeded by a titanic fireworks demonstration dances surrounded by glow-in-the-dark everything pumping rainbows of laser beams into space as well as what feels like millions of decibels of conflicting electronic music beats parading inside the tiniest cracks of your brain. It’s all just short of your head actually exploding.
While I could spend dozens of paragraphs trying to verbally extend what Burning Man is like, I’ve decided to stick to what I do best: photographs. For the last five years, I’ve been working on a gallery different than what you might be used to seeing: a series of double exposures with the idea to truly communicate the far out essence of Burning Man: its symphonic chaos, its artistic grandeur and its complete LED sh*t show. These prints were compiled from 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2016.
For more information on Burning Man, check out their website directly.