Photographers' Blog

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 Burning Man experience

Black Rock Desert of Nevada

By Jim Urquhart

I’ve been here three times and I still don’t know where I have been.

I don’t mean to sound whimsical but I still don’t know how to truly describe Burning Man. What began three years ago as idle conversation with some editors has brought me to the Black Rock Desert of Nevada for a week for the third time in the heat of the summer.

The two previous years I have spent my whole time on the desert floor working and creating photos for Reuters.

Welcome home to Burning Man

By Jim Urquhart


Photographer Jim Urquhart poses at Temple of Juno at Burning Man. Photo courtesy of Brian Erzen

As I write this I am sitting in my little camping trailer the morning after completing my Burning Man 2012 coverage. I am exhausted, a bit dehydrated, sore, my hair has become matted like dreadlocks from the combination of sweat and fine dust and I reek so horribly of body odor that I can make the sense of shame blush. But I am so aware of myself, I am alive and thriving. This is why I love what I do and the opportunities and experiences that it makes possible.

Okay, maybe not so aware of myself (I just fell asleep with my finger on the tab button after writing that first paragraph).

Surviving the Burning Man experience

“My body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park” – random quote.

Covered from head to toe in a fine alkaline talc while wearing a woman’s blouse, standing next to a completely naked middle-aged sun-baked man it hit me; Burning Man is not a story you cover, rather it is a visually mind blowing experience you endure.

I just barely survived and will be paying the price for a long time to come, but I relish the scars. I lost over eight pounds, got one long stretch of two hours of sleep and have fallen asleep three times trying to write this blog entry so far and all I have been able to do is write a sophomoric lead sentence; Burning Man still owns me.