Incredible Photos Of The Wonder And Weirdness That Is Burning Man
Since its conception in 1986 on a vacant beach in San Fransisco where a few friends gathered to celebrate the summer solstice, Burning Man has grown into an event of mythical proportions. The actual burning man has grown too — from 8 feet to 105 feet in 2015.
The people, the music, the art, the politics, and the community of the festival take all of its visitors out of their daily routines and transport them into a weird and wonderful world unlike anywhere else. Here are just a few snapshots of the magic.
The Beginnings And The Journey
At the same time that Larry Harvey and Jerry James were having their impromptu summer solstice sculpture burn on a beach, another event was going down in a dry lakebed known as Black Rock Desert. Kevin Evans and John Law made performance art and sculpture burning themes at this desert event.
After permits fell through and troubles arose on both ends, the two groups merged and decided that Black Rock Desert would be home to the festival. The first few focussed on surviving the landscape and had two rules: no guns, and no interfering with others.
It’s The Principle Of The Thing
Burning Man is known for its aversion to capitalist culture and advocates for attendees to leave their money at home and rely on the “gifts” of others. This strict principle has largely built the festival’s warm and friendly atmosphere, where people offer items and services to others without a second thought.
Here people gather around the actual burning man, the statue that is burned on the Saturday of the event. While at the event, participants are also encouraged to follow the “leave no trace,” “radical expression,” and “communal effort” principles, among others.
Need Light? There’s A Whole Camp Dedicated To That
Since Burning Man relies on its volunteers and participants coming prepared to survive in the desert and discourages any capitalist idea of exchanging services for money, a lot of the preparation and takedown of the festival is done by attendees themselves. Specifically, by dedicated camps.
Here is a member of the “Fire Conclave” camp who is responsible for lighting the streets of Black Rock City. Like these attendees, participants are also responsible for taking down the festival. They carry MOOP, “manner out of place,” bags and sticks to pick up any garbage left behind in the desert at the festival’s end.
It’s All About The Art
The art at Burning Man is larger than life, both literally and metaphorically. The festival started with performance art as its focus but has quickly become more frequented by interactive art pieces participants can touch and climb. Many camps also put on their own miniature shows and performances.
These two giant marionettes join the many other sculptures that lay off the beaten paths of Black Rock City. The art pieces are also lit up at night like beacons so that attendees don’t accidentally bike into them.
Biking — It’s Your Ticket To Ride
Driving is prohibited during Burning Man for the safety of its participants, so people roam around using bicycles and their own two feet. There are exceptions for emergencies, service vehicles, and mutant vehicles. Read more about the motor mutants on the next slide.
Golf carts, scooters, ATVs, and motorcycles are forbidden at Burning Man. So invest in a comfortable bike seat and a good pair of shoes because if you want to have fun you have to get walking.
Mutant Vehicles Are Basically Parade Floats On Steroids
Mutant vehicles are defined as motorized creations that look nothing like their original form or are out of context on the “Playa” landscape. They can be built from scratch by an industrious inventor or they can be modified from other vehicles. So don’t take that 2001 Pontiac Grand Am to the junkyard just yet — turn that bad boy into a mutant pirate ship.
Like this scrubbing bubbles bus, all mutant vehicles must be licensed by the DMV as a mutant vehicle and follow Black Rock City’s driving rules. That must be the most exciting job at the DMV for sure.
Who Are The “Burners”?
Once you step into Burning Man you are officially a “burner.” If it’s your first time you must step over a line in the sand, roll around in the dirt, and then yell “I’m not a virgin anymore” into the sky to mark the occasion. Don’t worry, everyone there has done it at some point.
The burners are usually fairly wealthy because Burning Man can get expensive. Main sale tickets are $425 each, vehicle passes are $100 each, and then you have to pay for camping gear, flights, and busses to the area. Despite how they look, burners are loaded.
Did You Bring Your Boyscout Survival Guide?
To make sure everyone takes responsibility for their own safety, the safety of others, and the environment of the space, Burning Man publishes their own survival guide that participants follow. Just don’t be reading it on your phone during the event.
Burning Man offers camping for vehicles and walk-ins. Walk-in camping is the less expensive but way less popular way to experience the event just because of how difficult it is to haul the gear into the middle of the desert on your own back. But the payoff is your own personal solitude if that’s what you’re looking for.
There’s A Theme Every Year
For those of us who love Halloween, Burning Man is your perfect mid-summer week-long fix before the month of October. Despite having camps and groups with their own themes and dress codes, each year organizers pick a broad theme for the whole festival.
1995’s was the classic “Good and Evil,” while 2019’s was “Metamorphoses.” The years we would’ve loved to see are 1999’s “The Nebulous Entity” and 2007’s “The Green Man.” Both of those are just specific enough that you think you get it, but just vague enough that you’d be hit with unexpected turns at every corner.
Black Rock City, Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
Black Rock City on Black Rock Desert is a temporary city erected during Burning Man. It functions because its attendees and volunteers stick to its principles and help each other out.
Since Black Rock City is a decommodified zone where no corporations, branding, or marketers may go, a lot of people have expressed concerns about social media influencers. They worry that they’re coming in and using the festival to take pictures to increase their following and revenue and that goes against Burning Man’s no business principle.
Go Low Tech Here
One of Burning Man’s principles is “immediacy” which basically means living in the moment. In our incredibly modern and connected world, this can sometimes pose a bit of a challenge since we always want to check our email. Burning Man is our moms standing over our shoulder telling us not to.
Pretty much the only TV or technology you’ll find here is with these two interstellar dudes watching TV as part of an art piece. Sure, you can bring your phone in and nobody is going to confiscate it, but with this much stuff going on why would you want to be texting?
They Do Have Medical Care
As cool as this place sounds, it would be a lot less cool if people were spending their time at Burning Man in pain and cooped up in a hospital. Burning Man is patrolled by volunteer “Black City Rangers” and other ESD that can help people get the care they need to survive the dusty desert.
One of the most common issues is something called “playa foot” which is basically a chemical burn caused by walking barefoot in the desert’s alkali dust. So maybe opt for boots instead of those trendy gladiator sandals when you go.
Black Rock City Has Its Own Post Office Too
Even though you’re going to hopefully be honoring the immediacy principle and unplugging for the week, Burning Man understands that sometimes you need to send a word out into the outside world — so they have a post office like any city.
This post office is a little different since it’s potentially got a blue-faced Elvis standing out front. Tea parties, art-making, citizenship and passports registration, and sending the occasional email all happen there. Wouldn’t you love this in your town?
The Music Scene
Unlike similar art and culture festivals, Burning Man doesn’t book any musicians or release any lineups for attendees to plan their experience around. All music is put on by individual camps or is restricted to the “Deep Playa Music Zone” DMZ for attendees to wander into when they want to hear some melodies.
Electronic music and rave culture reign supreme at Burning Man’s music scene. The DMZ is home to many sound trucks that have live DJs that pump out electronic dance music for nearby burners to enjoy.
Even Billionaires Are Burners
We’ve already established that burners have a few dollars to spare — but there are those who attend who have a little bigger of a budget than some rainy day money from mom. Billionaires, CEOs, and celebrities have been known to frequent the event to glamp.
They’ve been known to connect luxury RVs and tents together, hire help, and generally just not participate in the spirit of the festival. In a move that definitely got them snubbed at Burning Man’s Hug Deli, in 2017 Google employees actually ordered lobsters to their campsite for dinner. Now that’s a good delivery guy.
It’s Environmentalism Isn’t Perfect
Even though Burning Man has a litterless principle, the festival isn’t perfect. Where it succeeds in cleaning up a lot of its own waste and grey water, the festival’s carbon footprint falters because of a big reason — and the reason is on fire.
The burning of the burning man releases a huge amount of carbon dioxide into the air. Coupled with the emissions from the transportation vehicles getting to and from the event, Burning Man generates around 27,000 tons of carbon dioxide.
Feel The Burn… Everywhere
Since the event is so unique, Burning Man has naturally inspired a bunch of other similar events all over the world. Those include Burning Flipside in Texas, Apogea in Colorado, and AfrikaBurn in South Africa. We’re not telling you what to do, but Flipside tickets are only $132…
Let’s face it though, part of the draw of Burning Man is saying that you went to Burning Man. It’s already hard enough to explain what the original festival is to your parents, so the last thing you want to do is start comparing another one to it.
If You Can’t Go You Can Watch Documentaries About People’s Experiences
Even though there’s that decommodification *cough* principle *cough*, many people still find ways to document and sell their experiences at the event. Though we’re against it because it seems like a good way to have a bad time and ruin someone else’s time, we’re still going to watch these things just to check it out…
Director and star Bryant H. Boesen released a documentary in 2014 about his experience taking his 60-year-old parents there to show people of their generation not attending what it would be like. The film won a few awards and his parents had a good time.
Clothing Is Completely Optional
It may be normal for Europe, but it’s not normal for Nevada that’s for sure. There’s no policy forbidding public nudity at Burning Man, and quite a few people look forward to this aspect. At least you can save money on clothing for the event.
Like another city in Nevada, what happens at Burning Man stays at Burning Man. But if you’re walking around in the buff maybe make sure you’re not in the background of any influencers taking photos.
It Gets Cold In The Middle Of The Desert
You’re going to want to listen to your mom as you’re walking out the door when she tells you to bring your coat because Black Rock City gets cold at night. It goes against all sense that it can get chilly in a desert, but that’s exactly what happens. Who knew?
Since the Black Rock Desert is on an ancient lakebed 4,000 feet above sea-level, at nighttime temperatures can drop to the low 30’s. Luckily, you don’t have to bring any snow gear.
It’s Fun For The Whole Family
Even though Burning Man has a bit of a risqué reputation, kids are welcome to attend the festival just like everyone else. Kids are actually able to get into the festival for free! If they’re 12 years and younger and ready for some good vibes of course.
Burning Man has faced some criticism for this choice since the festival is known for its nudity and adult content, but apparently it’s quite fun for the kids. Burning Man even created “The Black Rock Explorers” which is a youth program that rewards kids for survival, good deeds, and educational accomplishments.
Food Is Light And Family Style
There’s no McDonald’s in the desert. There’s not even a grocery store where you can go and grab any extra items that you may have forgotten while you’re were packing up for the trip. Once you’re out there, you’re out there so make sure you’ve got enough snacks to last you the week.
A popular decision is to make group meals with the people you’re going with. Many advocate for making way less than you’d eat regularly, with many groups choosing to dine family-style only 1-2 times a day.
Man, Oh Man
Not only the giant man feels the burn at the end of the event, but a temple does too. The temple is erected at the beginning of the festival for people to approach and inscribe messages written to those who have passed away. At the end of the festival, the temple is burned following the burning of the man.
Popular sculptor David Best designed the temples from 2000-2004. In 2019, Geordie Van Der Bosch designed “The Temple of Direction” which was inspired by the Torii Gates at Japanese Fushimi Shrines.
There Was An Exhibition Of The Art
What happens in Burning Man stays in Burning Man — and that includes not technically paying to approach the large art structures that artists have erected. But after Burning Man these art pieces are fair game to be capitalized on.
An exhibition was held in 2018 at the Renwick Gallery in the Smithsonian in Washington DC that featured the art, costumes, and photographs of Black Rock City. Looks like Burning Man’s anti-consumerism only lasts the week of the festival.
The Theme Camps Are The Best Part
Everyone who’s been to Burning Man knows that the theme camps truly make the experience. When you’re a part of a camp you can suspend reality for a week and take on a service that helps Black Rock City. They’ve got incredble names too.
“Alkalita: Alkaline + Margarita” is a theme camp dedicated to providing Black Rock City residents those exact two things. You can sip away at a delicious blended beverage while grabbing your alkaline batteries. Two birds with one stone.
F.A.R.T. Kamp Isn’t Just Blowing Smoke
The name is pretty much exactly what you can expect from the Flatulence Amplification Research Team (F.A.R.T.), at a camp dedicated entirely to that cause. This camp invites its visitors to create…sounds in megaphones, and broadcasts these sounds on their own 24/7 radio station at K-F.A.R.T. 107.3 FM.
If this is the kind of camp you’d rather steer clear of don’t worry, you’ll be able to smell their (f)art installations from a mile away. Let ‘er rip!
Beat Playa Foot At The Healing Foot Wash Camp
It can be overwhelming choosing between all the camps and dive bars where to eat, spend your day, and grab your alkaline batteries. But, one thing that shouldn’t be hard to find is a good ol’ fashioned foot spa in the middle of the desert. We’re about to book our ticket just to get a nice foot rub.
At the “Healing Foot Wash Life Truth Love” you can get your feet washed, massaged, and moisturized while also finding inner peace. They state that you may stay to wash someone else’s feet after your own. I think we might be busy…
The Objectification Station Is Like Going To A Real-Life Roast
Have you ever been watching Comedy Central and they’re airing a roast and you get kind of jealous? Some of us really want to hear what close friends, acquaintances, and strangers think of us despite potentially tearing up at their words. The “Objectification Station” camp is here to help.
At the station all you have to do is stand on a platform while the camp’s panel says compliments, berating things, or objectifying things to you, it’s your choice. Afterward, they give you a juice so you can lick your wounds.
Pick Up A Shift At The Factory If You’re Bored
Part of the magic of Burning Man is entering a job field that you never imagined yourself doing. You could be a foot massager, a battery supplier, and even a factory worker. You’re going to have to take the night shift too this week, we lost Jim at a techno bar in an old dumpster 3 days ago.
At “The Factory” theme camp, visitors are greeted by an “overworked, underpaid linesman, whose pension was recently revoked” and served alcohol before being asked to work a triple. Sign on the dotted line.
Carve Some Memorabilia… It Has To Be Dinosaur Shaped Though
You don’t exit through the gift shop at Burning Man. You take in what you need and you probably leave with less because you lost it all somewhere in the desert. So if you want a little knick knack to remember the trip that’s not some fading body paint from the paint camp, carve a little something that “Jurassic Snark” theme camp.
There you can build and create prehistoric wood dinosaurs and chit chat with other folks doing the same. Sip some coffee while you chat about your favorite dinos.
Enjoy The Art Like You Would At A Museum
Even though Burning Man tells us to get off our phones, they do offer some features only available on the cellular that are great ways to make the experience great. Take the art audio guide, that guides you through and explains the different art pieces at the festival.
So if you’re standing in front of a garbage can with a stuffed animal on top and you can’t find an audio track, maybe it’s not art. It is nice to look at though, those glassy eyes just stare into your soul and get you.
The Archaeopteryx Brings People Together
One of the art installations is a creature-like structure created by Nicholas Debruyne and Wevolve Lab. The creation called the “Archaeopteryx” an is a “light sculpture” which shines best against the night sky. We can all imagine stumbling towards this oasis while we’re in the desert at night looking for the foot massage camp.
The Archaeopteryx is actually the first bird to evolve from an ancient dinosaur. So if you’re not sure which dinosaur you want to carve, take a trip over to the Archaeopteryx and see what it’s all about.
What’s The Buzz About The Bee Sculpture?
Burning Man is out here wanting the bees to be saved just like the rest of us. The buzz about Black Rock City is that it’s got a mellow and yellow new sculpture that’s making waves with its wings. It’s a bee. A big bee.
Designed by Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson, this large sculpture wants you to understand that bees are vulnerable by encouraging people to interact with the sculpture. They want you to touch the piece and understand that it’s vulnerable but not you.
Get Kitty With It At Cathenge
Some say if you stay at cat henge at sunrise you can see some wonderful and mystical things. You’ll also start wondering how they got these giant cat sculptures out to the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t aliens don’t worry, it was artist David Normal.
Cathenge consists of 9 13 foot tall “Catoliths” that stand around the central “Pussiopolis” shrine and shoot lasers from their eyes. Normal advertises that by staring at the sculpture. your human consciousness will evolve to a plane of “Holofelinity.” Of course.
Shoot For The Stars And Land Among The Clouds
This whimsical art installation knows that we’ve always wanted to swing so high that we could touch the sky — so they made it possible for us to do just that. Miracle Wonderland Carnival Co created a beautiful light-up swing that has clouds on top that shines in the night.
When you flying high on this bad boy think of all the dreams you wish to accomplish. You may get them, or you’ll find yourself feeling very sleepy…
Celebrities Love Burning Man
We already know the rich and famous love to get dusty in the Black Rock Desert, but they really are some loyal patrons to the event. Funnyman and star of Big Mouth Nick Kroll attended the 2018 festival and had an amazing time.
The star said that he was initially hesitant when he got there but after making a “dust angel” in the lakebed, he was fully into the fantasy. His camp was a hotel-like camp that offered its visitors a hotel experience, so he was walking around in a full suit dusting people’s shoulders off and calling them “sir.”
Susan Sarandon Segwayed Around The Desert
Susan Sarandon is known for her acting and her antics in Thelma and Louise, but did you know the 72-year-old actress also loves the Burning Man scene? Looks like having an Academy Award and a handful of others doesn’t stop you from having a good time.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Sarandon mentioned that she got around the desert on a segway. Imagine wandering around and seeing Susan scoot by. You’d think you were dreaming for sure.
The “California Girl” Went To Nevada
Katy Perry is no stranger to being in the public eye, but what about the eyes of burners she meets in the desert? When Perry went to Burning Man for the first time she attempted to ride a segway in a dust storm and ultimately lost control of the vehicle. Hopefully, Susan Sarandon showed her the riding ropes.
For the event, Parry decided to deck her hair out in some colorful yarn braids that blew nicely in the wind and disguised the star’s signature black locks. Now that’s she’s rocking the short blonde do’ she’ll have to invest in hats.
Elon Musk Took A Break From Building Rockets To Party
We all love our eccentric billionaire antics — Elon Musk is the golden boy for a celebrity who more money than they can burn. So what does he do to relax? Go to Burning Man of course.
Musk is apparently a frequenter of the festival and one of its biggest advocates. He’s not shy about talking about his love for it either, as he’s been quoted saying “if you haven’t been, you just don’t get it.” We haven’t bought one of his flamethrowers, so we just don’t get those either.
Paris Hilton Had A Simple Life At Burning Man
You may not expect Hollywood’s favorite party girl to get into the Burning Man scene, but she’s there and having a grand old time. She was decked out in a colorful accessorized ensemble that made her fit right in with the burner crew.
Wouldn’t it be hilarious to carve a dinosaur with Paris Hilton? The whole time we’d be biting our tongues trying not to ask about her friendship with Nicole or if we could stay at one of her family’s hotels on the way back home. Any room would be fine Paris…