Photographers' Blog

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).

SLIDESHOW: BURNING MAN

This was my second year covering the event and I really wanted to let go and participate more in the experience. Last year I was a Playa virgin made worse by also being working media. This year I was no veteran in the dust but I was more tuned in with what was happening around me.

I decided first and foremost I wanted to let myself go deeper into the experience of being a burner. Burning Man is an event that demands your participation. Just entering the gates this year I watched virgin burners being made to roll in the dirt, mounted and humped over their clothes by greeters. The dusty, middle-aged couple will now have that sacred memory to pass on to their loved ones. I myself was made to get out of my vehicle and asked how many times I had been to the burn.

Be messy and be healthy

Crowds flounder and scream in the gray mud. Crazed people struggle with each other, fighting fiercely to throw others into the mud. The streets of a small coastal village are messy with mud. Mud-covered pedestrians, some already tipsy, wander along the beachside streets. But this is not a battlefield or a disaster area. It’s typical scenery during the Boryeong Mud Festival.

The festival, which runs from July 16-24 this year, is one of South Korea’s most popular summer events. Around 2-3 million domestic and international festival-goers visit the beach during the event each year to enjoy mud-related activities such as mud slides, mud wrestling, a mud king contest and mud massages.

The presence of lots of foreign visitors, many of them members of the U.S. Forces Korea and their families, make this festival an exotic event for locals. It feels like I’m staying at Miami Beach. The mud puts everyone in a good mood. Visitors can enjoy the festival regardless of age, sex, or nationality. And there’s no need to play in the mud – you can just spray it and tackle the people around you! Somehow everyone can be friends after a few minutes of mud fighting.

Utah gets Holi, Photographer gets dirty

People throw colored powder during Holi, the festival of colors, at the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah March 26, 2011.   REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

By Jim Urquhart

The Holi Color Festival is a yearly event in Utah that for years I have known of but never attended myself. I would be reminded of it after the fact when seeing it in images by other photojournalist friends. It is rooted in a Hindu tradition of celebrating the end of winter and beginning of Spring and takes place at the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah.

What makes this festival so amazing is not just the crowds of people and the color but also that it is taking place in Utah County. The same county as the LDS Church’s Brigham Young University. In my mind, Utah County is not known as a mecca of culture and was really only a melting pot of white bread, sugar and milk. I was about to have my stereotype blown away.

Revellers cover their faces as they stand in a midst of coloured powders during Holi, the festival of colors, at Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah March 26, 2011.   REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

It has always puzzled me and in the days before the event I was asked to speak to communication students at BYU. I asked the professor of the class, who is also a good friend, why it is that so many Mormon youth and young adults attend the event. It is not part of my picture of white Utah county. He explained that the event draws the students and families from the area because not only is it an experience in another culture’s traditions but it also a safe fun outlet for them.

Frozen… at the Harbin Ice and Snow festival

Imagine if you will, being given an assignment that required you to sit in your freezer for 3 days. Then, imagine multiplying that temperature by three, and you might have some idea of what it was like to photograph the 27th Harbin International Ice and Snow festival in January.

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Don’t get me wrong, it was fun… looking back on it… but when you are dealing with minus 34 degree temperatures, it’s not always pleasant. Heat packs, for example, only feel warm once you are back inside the hotel. Useful… NOT! So then you try wearing lots of clothes. But try walking around on ice covered footpaths and roads, and then attempting to squat to get that slightly better angle (of perhaps a crazy man fishing while sitting in the middle of a frozen lake with the wind howling and taking the temperature to minus 40) all while impersonating the Michelin Man.

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But most crazy of all is attempting to take pictures with your eyelashes sticking together (so that you can’t see) while at the same time, your beard is forming icicles on your face mask so that it gets so tight on your mouth that you can’t breathe. FUN… did I say that already?

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