Burning bright, loud and intense
Black Rock Desert of Nevada
By Jim Bourg
Having been to Burning Man several times now, I went to the 2013 event determined to convey in some new way to people who have never been the intensity, the size and the sometimes overwhelming sensory overload of the experience. It is truly like nothing else on earth and sometimes feels alien and otherworldly.
The size of the event, a temporary city of almost 70,000 people spanning across miles of the Nevada desert, is hard to convey in individual still photos. So is the sensory overload that 24 hour a day music, lasers, flame effects, wild costumes and the intensity of the dusty, sometimes blazingly hot in the day and at other times frigidly cold at night desert environment brings to bear. Some people who have not been before find it too much to take and leave after only a few days never to return. But for tens of thousands of others one of the regular cliches of Burning Man is that it feels like home and they feel more comfortable there than any place else. As people arrive in Black Rock City every single person gets the salutation from volunteer greeters: “Welcome Home!”
Another common cliche among the “Burners” who attend the event is that trying to describe the experience of being at Burning Man to people who have not been there is like “trying to explain the color purple to a blind person.” Participants returning to work exhausted and changed by a week in the 100 degree dust storm blasted, dehydrating heat of the desert are often floored by friends and coworkers cheerily asking “How was your vacation?” The environment, culture and experiences of Burning Man strain relationships, profoundly impact peoples’ concepts of community, self reliance and responsibility for themselves and others. In many cases the experience actually permanently changes peoples’ perspectives on their lives.
Having traveled the globe as a photojournalist covering often intense events for Reuters, this is one of the only things that I have photographed where I have felt frustrated in conveying the scale and intensity of the event with still pictures alone. In this multimedia piece we have combined still imagery from myself and my colleague Jim Urquhart as well as video that I shot from atop a large double decker art car called “Thunder Gumbo” and the back of a flame breathing dragon named “Davina” as she raced across the desert. We have combined this with the driving “Dubstep” electronic dance music that is so common at the event. With the added multimedia video editing wizardry of my colleagues Jason Reed and Larry Downing we have tried to convey in some small way what it is actually like to be there in this wild, one of a kind environment.
As the sun sets over Burning Man’s temporary desert city of close to 70,000 people, the citizens of Black Rock City don their wildest costumes and take out their fire performance tools. They open the propane valves on flame effects that spew fountains of fire that can seen for miles across the city. They turn on the colorful lights and lasers of more than 500 art cars and power up some of the most powerful sound systems on earth to make the night come alive. Fire dancers spin, juggle and twirl fire in ways designed to boggle and amaze.
The party rages till dawn and then on into the next day. Everywhere one ventures there is mammoth art, intense music and visual stimuli that overwhelm the senses. The scene stretches to the horizon and the intensity never stops for a week until suddenly it is all gone until next year. Hopefully this video gives you a small taste of what it is like to be there.