Review | Burning Man: 2000 & 2001: A Photo Essay by Sheila Masson

Dancing and Raving

…For the uninitiated, 20,000 or so people descend on Nevada’s Black Rock Desert in the last week of August to form “Black Rock City” (population the rest of the year: 0 ). The goal is to create a unique community of artists, exhibitionists, ravers, alternative-types, etc. Everyone is encouraged to “participate”; There should be no spectators…

Desert Dress

…Yes, there were plenty of naked people there, but honestly, the naked people are the least interesting. The best ones were painted from head to foot in neon colors or had peculiar attachments or costumes. Costumes being KEY at Burningman…

Art Installations

…Our days were spent wandering around the camp — going to raves under the mid-day sun and sheltering ourselves in the huge cafe during the rain. We biked out to see some of the large sculptures in the desert and got caught in a sand storm. After first attempting to bike back, we gave up and sat on the floor covering our eyes and heads. After 5 minutes of that, we got bored and pushed our bikes back in what we thought was the right direction. Slowly, some wooden art structures became visible and then vanished again — and then reappeared. All of a sudden, a figure appeared, walking out of the dust storm— best described as a naked, middle-aged man with a pot-belly. He strolled nonchalantly along and then vanished back into the swirls of sand…

Department of Mutant Vehicles

…A note about bikes – you can’t drive regular cars in the “city” as it is too dangerous — you either walk, ride your bike (which is advisable as the city is big) or modify funky cars/bikes etc. A typical sight at Burningman is to see a sofa on wheels rolling past you, or an entire bar with barstools and patrons cruising by. You are also encouraged to decorate your bike to avoid misplacing it or having someone else “misplace” it for you (bikes are not officially lost or stolen until a week after the event). Bicycle decorations ranged from plastic flowers to neon lights to dolls heads…

Community

…We arrived shortly before sundown and a “neighbor” came over and introduced himself and offered us hot soup that they had just made. That pretty much set the tone for the festival. A few days later we were invited over for a pre-dinner glass of wine by our other neighbors Misty and Art, a 60-something couple from Northern California who were there in their R.V. — on the advice of their nephew who apparently runs raves in Miami. They had a great time and also offered us dinner — an offer we politely declined…

Daytime Activities

…Nothing is sold at Burningman and there is no commercial sponsorship. The only exception is the cafe which sold tea, coffee & hot chocolate, and one of the local high schools sold ice (which normally would be vital, but the weather was so bad we never needed to replenish our supply). Anyone caught selling anything would be evicted from the city. In theory you “barter” – but people just kept giving me stuff – after I took some pictures of a well-costumed man on a bike, he gave me a frozen ice-pop. Another man gave me a free-beer coupon and someone else gave me purple mardi-gras beads for catching something that was flying across the playa (the biggest mantra of all is “Leave No Trace” – all garbage must be removed and you must pick up every piece of litter you see or create – including cigarette butts and beer caps)…

Evening

…At night, the city is completely transformed. There is very little “municipal” lighting — the theme camps on the main drag provide most of the lighting and entertainment. One of the most impressive sights was the dragon duel: two huge ex-trucks, completely modified to look like dragons that shoot fire six feet in front of them. These monstrous vehicles go out into the desert at midnight and “duel”, roaring and spitting fire. To make the most dramatic use of the dark everyone covers themselves in glow-sticks or some type of lighting. Weird shapes emerge out of the dark, electrically lit desert apparitions. During the day I had seen a guy on his bike with wings coming out several feet from his handlebars. In the evening I realized, as he came “flying” through the crowd, that he was a dragonfly — the driver had completely disappeared and all you could see was a glowing insect weaving through the people walking around the playa…

The Burn

The “Man” himself is a 52 foot high wooden structure, also lit up at night by long pink and blue lights — he stands on a stack of bales of hay and on Saturday he is set on fire, surrounded by fire dancers and flame throwing machines. Everyone walks to the center of the camp to watch this and as he slowly crumbled and disintegrated everyone cheered. As we left the camp the wardens were holding signs – including “365 days to go and counting…….”

All photographs and text copyright Sheila Masson are the exclusive property of Sheila Masson and are protected under United States and international copyright laws. The photographs may not be reproduced, copied, stored or manipulated for commerical or editorial purposes without written permission of their author. No images are in the Public Domain. Use of any image as the basis for another photographic concept or illustration is a violation of copyright.

© Sheila Masson, 2001

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