Burn baby, burn
“Burning Man is the place to find out who you are, then take it a step further” reads the official website of the festival, ideally describing what it is all about. One hundred miles from the gambling town of Reno, in the wilderness of northern Nevada, lies a vast, dry plain known as the Black Rock Desert. The region has been an empty and windswept dry lake bed for most of the past 10,000 years _except for one brief week at the end of each summer, when a temporary city rises out of the barren clay.
This is where artists, gen-Xers, millennials and all A-listers come to play each year, surrounded by love, art and fearless self-expression with the help of a yearly theme, chosen by the organizers, that inspires the participants through art and communication. The festival is an experiment in community and art, influenced by ten main principles: “radical” inclusion, self-reliance, and self-expression, as well as community cooperation, civic responsibility, gifting, decommodification, participation, immediacy, and leaving no trace.
It was in 1986 when the first Burning Man was set on fire on a San Francisco beach, where Larry Harvey and his friend Jerry James knocked together an improvised wooden figure to drag down to Baker beach for the Summer Solstice. As they set him on fire, a curious crowd gathered round to watch it burn. And that’s how it all started. From then on, every summer in Black Rock City, on the Saturday evening of the event, the man burns again and again.
Baked by the sun, and blinded by dust, the gathering acquires different meanings for different people: temporary community, spiritual adventure, performance stage, desert rave, social experiment. It’s also the incubator of some of the most remarkable site-specific outdoor art ever made: a mechanized fire-breathing octopus, a towering wooden temple 15 meters tall, and the eponymous Man himself—a skeletal sculpture set ablaze at the event’s conclusion.
Art of Burning Man: In this updated edition pubished by Taschen, with fresh images, writer and photographer NK Guy presents 16 years of Burning Man art. His dazzling images record these participatory, collective, intrinsically ephemeral installations and happenings in the desert, which exist for no clearer purpose than because someone wanted to express something. The result is testimony to a realm far beyond the ego, commerce, and power play of mainstream cultural output: it is one of the most pure, uninhibited, expressive centers of our time.
About the photographer: NK Guy is a Canadian writer and photographer living in Britain. He is the author of The Lens: A Practical Guide for the Creative Photographer and The Photographer’s Dictionary. He documented the art of Burning Man annually between 1998 and 2014.
About the festival: Burning Man will take place between August 26 th
and September 3 rd of 2018.