Burning Man 2002

The thing I do that is most unlike what anybody (including me) might expect me to do is attend the annual Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada. Burning Man is kind of an arts festival, but that does not begin to describe it; if these pictures make you curious, you can check out the web site at www.burningman.com. Sorry, no nudies here -- the event is clothing-optional, but it is considered bad form to post pictures of people without obtaining their permission.

These were taken with my Nikon Coolpix 990, with minor brightness/contrast enhancements and a lot less detail than the large files the camera produces. The daytime shots were on automatic settings, nighttime was mostly manual and far trickier; it's harder to boss around a digital camera in the dark than it would be to manipulate an old-fashioned film model.

The background is a doctored photo of the playa, the dry lakebed upon which Black Rock City is built. As is the wont of dry lakebeds, this one generates a lot of dust, pale greenish stuff that gets into everything in the city. Months later, you find some at home, and it reminds you of this fantastic place that exists for just over a week every year.

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This is the RV I rented and lived in during the event. It is a Tioga, and it was quite comfortable. It ended up costing about $200 a night, including mileage and full insurance, but not counting its considerable thirst for gasoline. I rented it in Las Vegas, which turned out to be a better idea than San Francisco or Los Angeles, where I picked up larger RVs in each of the two previous years. Although the trip is a bit longer than from SF (but much shorter than from Los Angeles), there was little traffic  and the drive was easy. Unfortunately, Reno, where I stopped overnight, is a bit out of the way, but you could get most of the supplies you need in Vegas and Fallon, Nevada. For all three years, I rented from a company called El Monte. Although its listed prices seem to be a bit higher than those of some of its competitors, the equipment was fine in all three years and they people were good to do business with. They don't have an office in Reno, which is the major municipality closest to Black Rock City.

These are a couple of art cars, the only motorized vehicles that participants at Burning Man can use for driving around Black Rock City. There are also some official vehicles for organizers and safety personnel, and, in fact, the Fishcar on the left is a staff car, as you can see from the stickers. Since the theme in 2002 was "The Floating World," many of the art cars were of a nautical nature. Art cars must be licensed by the Department of Mutant Vehicles, and they can only go 5 miles an hour inside the city. Other vehicles can only be driven to and from campsites.

Like any town, Black Rock City  has various municipal services. One of the most colorful is provided by the lamplighters. Each evening, as the sun moves low over the western horizon, the lamplighters gracefully hang oil lanterns on the main thoroughfares. The lights don't illuminate all that much, though they do provide a reference point for those who would otherwise be disoriented.  These pictures were taken in the only major dust storm that occurred during the event. The second one was snapped during a lull, it was like being in the eye of a hurricane.
While the sun was shining, this fellow had a bird's eye view of the city.

These are some of the large artworks that were in Black Rock City during 2002. On the far left is the Fool's Ark, by a talented artists who goes by the name Dadara. He worked for the Black Rock Gazette in 2001 and provided many illustrations that we used in 2002. Next is the Madagascar Institute's  " Creature of the Deep," which I wrote about in the Black Rock Gazette.
 The Duck was a favorite, far away from the mayhem of the central camps, it housed a bar and casino that stayed open until dawn. Finally, on the right, you have one of the most notable projects in Black Rock City 2002, the Temple of Joy. This construction, built out of scraps from model dinosaur kits, was similar to the Temple of Tears done by the same artist -- David Best -- in 2001. The 2002 incarnation got a lot of media attention. Both were burned on the final night of each event.

Not all of the art at Black Rock City is large-scale. This Japanese-style rock garden was a charmingly serene oasis among the general chaos of the event. The paper mache moas, as the giant heads of Easter Island are properly known, inspired the Black Rock Gazette's first serialized fiction. Some of the paper's staffers vociferously disliked it, although the reaction from other participants was generally positive. If you're curious, you can read it by viewing the six papers we created for the event. They are all in pdf format, as you will have guessed if you clicked on the previous link. On the far right is the Egeria, named for a Greek nymph who symbolized fountains and childbirth. It occupied the keyhole, a position of importance between the main part of Black Rock City and the Burning Man.

The Man -- known to the cognoscenti as Bernie -- is at the center of the event, though only in a figurative way. Black Rock City officially exists every year from the Monday before Labor Day until the Tuesday after.
 On Saturday night, the effigy is burned, a ceremony that is hokey and moving at the same time. I have heard Larry Harvey, the founder of the event, deny several times that he conceived the Man in reaction to a broken romance, which is a popular explanation. I more or less believe him, although it does make a nice story. If you want to know more, see the Burning Man website or use Google.

So, after sunset on Saturday, the Man was illuminated. His arms were raised, at which point the one on your right went out. Fireworks were ignited, in the air and then from the pedestal, leading to the fire that engulfed the statue in just a few minutes. At the end, he was pulled to the ground by cables.