Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Here're a couple quickies from the massive moonrise the evening after the autumnal equinox. Adios, summer.

I seem to be overly obsessed with celestial bodies lately. Eh, there are worse things to get excited about. Speaking of excited, Murphy returns next week from her month in Ireland; looking forward to seeing her shining face back 'round these here parts!

I'm off to Aspen, CO tomorrow for my most excellent friend Aaron's wedding. I am going to pack my camera and my running shoes as they are sure to be valuable weapons against the dangerously awesome fall colors; everything else may fall by the wayside. Cheerio 'til next week!


Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I had the distinguished privilege of spending every single waking moment of last weekend with Riley, helping him on a big photo shoot. He got hired to photograph a global aviation-related company's annual retreat, timed to coincide with the Reno Air Races. They rented two WWII-era bombers, a B-17 and a B-25, and gave their executives and some top clients rides in them out of a private terminal at the Reno airport.

We had been out to the terminal Friday to see the planes, but we arrived there at 6am Saturday to set up the lights and get the rest of the gear set up properly. The collection of gear we brought is a little bit ridiculous and it's mind-boggling to think about all the contingencies we put into place to make sure everything went off smoothly. Quick count: 3 cameras, 15ish lenses, 11 lights, a production assistant, 8 pocket wizards, 120ish GB of flash cards, 6 batteries, chargers for every light's battery, a generator, a cherry picker, too many filters and tripods and light stands to count, sandbags, extension cords, a computer, external hard drives, etc.

From the cherry picker. How to light a plane. Photo: Riley


Fast forward to late that afternoon, after several rounds of shooting and editing, when we headed up to the Hyatt in Incline to photograph their gala dinner.

Flame and moon

We managed a few hours of sleep before getting back out to the airport at 7am to set up the myriad lighting equipment again; this is still an active airport, so nothing could be left lying around where it might get sucked through a plane's propeller!

About mid-day, the gentleman coordinating everything for the company told us that there were a couple of no-shows, and that we could both go on the next B-25 flight. We dropped all non-essential gear, left our production assistant with a list of to-do items, and wriggled into the belly of the B-25. The beast roared to life with a cloud of smoke and we careened down the runway, swaying to and fro. The "interior" of this plane is littered with protrusions both sharp and blunt, making safe navigation within its embrace a substantial challenge.

Safe is a misnomer

Nothing to be embarrassed about

Once airborne, we had free reign over the plane, meaning we could crawl into the nose gun, into the top gun, and all the way back into the tail gun. And by "crawl," I mean "crawl."

Not for the claustrophobic. Photo: Riley

These planes have windows, too, and they're not the slide-up-and-down window cover that we're used to on airlines. It's a hole in the side of the plane, leaving one free to stick his head out into 280-knot airflow! We flew south out of Reno and did some formation flying with the B-17, after which they turned up to Tahoe and did more formation flying, making big banked turns with the B-17 so close it felt like we could reach out and touch it.

Alongside Slide Mountain

Leaving Reno airspace

Tahoe beckons from the nose-gunner's perch

B-17 from the B-25. Life is officially awesome!

They brought us back down over Spooner Summit, a few hundred feet above the trees, before setting a course over Carson and Washoe Lake on the way back to Reno.

Blat blat blat blat blat


Instrumentation, or "this is how scared you should be" in analog form

Heading home over Washoe Lake

By this time, 30 or 40 minutes into the flight, the turbulence was starting to get to me, as Sunday was far far more windy than Saturday. I think Riley was feeling it too, as we both stumbled out of the plane and curled up into little balls before the next group of execs showed up for their ride.

After a couple more hours of shooting and on-the-spot editing in a back room, we went and made the prints (to be delivered that night) and called it a wrap. Exhausting weekend by all counts, but what an experience to go for a flight in a WWII bomber!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Burning Man 2010

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

Torso detail

Hand detail

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

Moving on...

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.

Playa travelers

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

Neon detail

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.


Past Detritus