Burning Man 2014
North America, Thoughts

Why I Don’t Have Pictures for Burning Man

I can’t wait to see all your pictures from Burning Man!

Burning Man 2014
Here, you can have one of my personal pictures.

My Facebook feed was filled with glee and excitement from my readers and friends who were unable to make it home to the the playa this year.

Well, my friends, I’m here to tell you that… well… I have no pictures. I have a few personal ones, yes, but nothing for my blog. And it wasn’t that I didn’t have a media pass – that had been settled long ago. It was this nagging feeling inside me that I have been fighting with for a long while as a photographer – I don’t go and take pictures to make a spectacle, to create a zoo-like post with everyone looking in – a one way street of voyeurism. I am not your television set.

More than anything, over the past couple of years the Burning Man community and events have taken over my life. I’m a Burner outside of the once a year Gerlach regional. I participate in my own Austin community. I make electric jellyfish interactive installations. I talk shop and art. I go to fundraisers. We do clothing swaps, community park clean ups, and support each other. I’m on my own personal playa much of the rest of the year.

But what struck me so hard this year was a Burning Man principle that I have been failing to incorporate into my daily life – Immediacy.

Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience. – BurningMan.org

Ultimately, it boils down to being present – down to your very core.

What a horrible principle for those of us who like to capture life and share it! But as I head to more and more burns, I’ve found myself taking less and less pictures. It isn’t because there is nothing to see – it is quite the opposite. There are so many things to see and do that a) I can’t possibly capture everything for you and b) I need to make sure that I am enjoying these pleasures of art, food, and a good time. I’m not there for *you*. I’m there for *me*.

Not to mention – when people ask me what Burning Man is like, I’m at a loss for words. Sure I can describe it at face value, but the more burns I go to, the further I experience a reverent confusion on where to even begin. This place is special. So special I have no words to describe it – nor can any photo ever fully represent the the blood, sweat, and tears of all the volunteers who work year around to make this happen. The artists, the guys at DPW, the regional groups (like me!) who travel over 3500 miles round trip to bring the Burning Man attendees an experience.

I got to “make someone’s burn”. And putting down my camera for that opportunity was worth its weight in gold. A particularly dusty day had hit the playa and a girl named Wendy came into the souk for a bit of reprieve. I saw her and immediately knew what gift was perfect for her. I brought her over to our sitting area and handed her a Tibetan jade necklace and she started to tear up. I was able to provide that moment she needed. I wrapped my arms around her and told her that things will get better, and sat and chatted for a long while.

Those are the experiences that I want to have. Those are the memories that I want to keep. I would have missed out had I been out galavanting for the sole purpose of capturing. It is one reason why (and I’ve gotten into many heated arguments with travel bloggers about this) – that even though there are talented photographers out there that capture AMAZING photos at Burning Man, they are missing the entire thing – the whole point – as they try to get that perfect pic.

…And do not get me started about consent about taking pictures…

And as I look back at so many adventures I’ve had on my blog, I realize how much I missed because I was too busy capturing photos for the sole purpose of blogging about it. How many human connections were missed?

So right now I’m struggling on how to bring your stories and pictures of the chaos we get ourselves into without compromising my experience. I apologize for my absence – but I want to make sure that I’m as authentic as I possibly can be.

16 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Have Pictures for Burning Man”

  1. Good for you! I was at this food blogger convention this weekend (IFBC) and consent for taking pictures was a huge topic of discussion. Mainly because a speaker, who is a photographer for several major magazines advocated taking pictures without people’s knowledge, which of course upset a lot of people. It’s not a subject I have thought on very hard ,but I think it’s an important one, especially at an event like Burning Man where people go specifically to be free and escape their normal lives.

    1. It is weird because there seems to be a distinctive cultural split between the “Big Burn” and the regionals – where photography is looked down upon (obviously not as an art form but for the “free” reason).

      Being able to be free with no consequences in the real world is a big deal. What if a mom was snapped topless and someone reported it? There are a gazillion instances where taking pictures in this realm is incredibly inappropriate.

      Not to mention – the whole point is to see things burn, to have this environment exist only then – not outside.

  2. Love your response to Steph where you state, “…the whole point is to see things burn, to have this environment exist only then – not outside.” So very true and that’s what makes situations/events like this so special/so rare/so intense.

    1. Shaun’s mom was so sad when she saw pictures of these beautiful pieces before they became ash. “They deserve to be in galleries!” – Or, you know that the artist will create something just as magical next time.

      There is no such thing as forever and I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to full embrace it.

  3. I’ve always been terrible for taking pictures when I travel… I recently started doing it more a bit because I wanted visual representations of my adventures for myself, but more because other people asked for them. It’s hard to keep the balance between experiencing a moment and documenting it, and I imagine that this would be more the case at Burning Man than anywhere else, where it’s all about the fleeting moment.
    Also, good job making that girl’s burn! That must have been so beautiful and rewarding.

  4. I think you make a great point Erica! I’ve always thought I made such a crappy blogger because I never took enough photos of artsy doors or ‘interesting people’ etc but I’ve come to realise that I’m too busy enjoying the ‘now’ to worry about how I’m going to write about it or explain it to others on my site.

    Burning Man is for you hun and if you have the memories (with or without the photos) then that’s all that matters 🙂

  5. I struggle with this myself. I really enjoy photography but it is such a balancing act, you don’t want to just be observing the experiences that are unfolding around you, you want to be LIVING them. I personally don’t feel comfortable taking photos of other people (other than friends) and generally stick to objects, architecture and landscapes. When I am at a social event like drinks, dinners or festivals, I generally don’t take any photos at all as I am living in the moment more. When I am hiking I enjoy taking pictures, as life is at a slower pace when I am out walking and I feel that I have time to take some photos and still be absorbed in the moment.

  6. I’ve never been to Burning Man but I totally understand your point Erica, I think I’d have probably done exactly the same, even though it’s difficult not to take photos sometimes, especially of such unique moments and experiences.

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