Ethel and I made our pilgrimage to Black Rock City last week. After our last couple trips to the playa outside of Burning Man, we knew we'd be in for the inevitable culture shock of sharing this place with 50,000 people.
We camped with Martini Village and had an awesome little crew that included a high percentage of international visitors and also a bunch of virgins. Burner virgins. You degenerates. The festival also coincided with Ethel's 30th birthday; what better place to celebrate a big birthday?
These photos here are not a complete tour of the playa and everything that goes on there, but they show some of the art and the moonscape that we so eagerly go back for year after year.
Perhaps the most distinctive art installation on the playa this year was the massive mesh-skinned woman. She was beautiful in pretty much any light and whether viewed from afar or up close.
Most of her at dusk
The Temple was stunning, as usual. Quick explanation that will lend credence to my fondness for the place: the Temple is always a large-scale installation that burns the night after the burning of the Man. However, it's an entirely different experience. The Man is a raging party of all 50,000 people, replete with blasting music from every direction and rowdiness of every flavor. However, a bunch of people leave before Sunday night. The burning of the Temple is instead viewed by 25,000 totally silent people. It's a place of both remembrance and letting go, as throughout the week, people write notes and leave artifacts in the Temple. They may be offering a remembrance of a friend or family member who has died, they may be letting go of an addiction, they may be letting go of a bad relationship, etc. By Sunday morning, it's hard to walk through the Temple without breaking down in a matter of a couple minutes; the energy in the place is truly palpable. So when the Temple burns, it's an event of collective energy and community, and it's the most special part of the week for me.
This year's Temple was modeled after sand dunes; large flowing shapes of wood meandered around each other and rose from the flat playa. It was far different from any Temple I've seen thus far and quite beautiful in its simplicity and form.
Sun and dust filter through the Temple
The Temple at night, guarded by the moon
Cruising around the playa at any time of day, one is bound to find impromptu parties. Burning Man is an "anything goes" type of place, so parking an Art Car with a sound system in the middle of nowhere and attracting some people to dance is not an unusual sight at all. Also not unusual is to see a burner fully embracing the dust by not letting it get in the way of a little sunset yoga.
Dancing girls at sunset
As good a place as any
A lot of the art at Burning Man isn't up for the whole week. Due to weather conditions or the fragile nature of some installations, they may only appear for one night or part of a day. These balloons were in that category. They were BIG balloons!
One of the perennial treats of the playa is seeing the Flaming Lotus Girls' work. They brought us the truly spectacular Serpent Mother a few years ago and never disappoint. This year, they fabricated massive dandelions and other flowers. We unfortunately never made it by at night to witness the extravaganza of fire that is the hallmark of their installations, but their work is equally stunning during the day. They have raised the interplay of steel, propane, and light to new heights...
This next photo is a detail of a towering art installation in front of Center Camp. Climbable art, people would wait partway up until a spot freed up in the caged dome atop the tower.
One of the creature comforts of the playa is finding new friends who are carrying spray bottles and offer misty relief from the sun and the dust.
Ethel gets sprayed
On Friday, we made our first trip out to the Man to admire his neon work and his Art Deco styled pedestal.
The Man is a hub of activity throughout the week, and it's an excellent place to sit down for a few minutes and watch the world go by.
Resting and people watching
The Man is also one of the highest if not the highest vantage points on the playa. The landscape is so flat that it doesn't take much elevation to be able to survey the entire place.
From the Man, back towards Center Camp
A lot of work goes into the construction of the Man, a testament to the ephemeral nature of the whole event. The level of detail in the neon and his delicate construction is a matter of pride for the crew who builds him, and it all burns in the end...
The Man on his pedestal, from afar
The Man, compressed
The Lamplighters are a select group who manually light the city's main streets each night. There is much ceremony associated with their movements through the city; they take their jobs very seriously!
Aside from the toll that the microscopic moondust can take on camera gear, it's really a spectacular venue for photography. Even before we talk about the people, the art, and the light, there's simply never a shortage of colorful bright things to stick in the background of a photo!
Ethel at Disorient
Whether at the end of a long night or with fresh countenance after a good sleep, sunrise is a spectacular time of day in Black Rock City. It's where the nightlife and the daylife converge, when the weather is kindest, and when the light does amazing things to the playa, the people, and the art.
Outside Root Society at daybreak
Screens at sunrise
Flower stem, with Temple behind
Looking up at a 40' tall flower
Antenna array at sunrise
Murphy and Lisa
Inside a sanctuary styled after the dome of a Persian mosque
One of the more curious traditions on the playa is the group that gathers at the embers of the burnt Man and sorts through for artifacts. Highly prized are bits of neon tubing etc. There are hundreds of people hanging out there Sunday morning, napping, drinking, comparing treasures, and otherwise socializing.
The rubble of the Man
All in all, we had good weather. We had a diverse and super-cool group of people in our camp, and our virgins jumped in headfirst. The music was pretty off the hook (An-Ten-Nae and FreQ-Nasty at Root Society Thursday night blew my freakin' mind). I think the art was a bit off this year, and I'm starting to hypothesize that the quality and scale of the art follows the economy. Both 2007 and 2008 had pretty amazing and plentiful art, and it's just been a bit subdued the last two years.
Above all, I loved hanging out with my extended playa family in my unofficial second home, and getting to celebrate Murphy's 30th birthday in such a special place was pretty darn awesome.
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