Burning Man: The longest and most important road home yet. / by chris miele

The gate road never looked so good, what a great welcome )'(ome.

For many burners, the yearly gathering in Black Rock City serves as our New Year.  It’s when we reflect on the previous year and look ahead to implement what playa lessons we’ve learned.  This New Year would be our fourth straight, and arguably our most poignant.  Last year as we began exodus, I turned on my phone and received an awkward voicemail from my job mentioning a “schedule change.”  It was there on the gate road leaving the playa that I knew I was returning to LA without a job.  I had been dancing around being a full time photographer for years, but this was the turning point, the decision had been made for me.  My career as a video editor had closed, leaving me no choice but to pursue my passion full time.  I had the choice to either panic or embrace - thankfully my years on the playa had prepared me to fully accept, embrace, and celebrate.

Erin doing her best to embrace the several hours of traffic en-route to Black Rock City.

As August approached my girlfriend and I had to sit down and really think about whether or not we could make it to Black Rock this year.  Living in Detroit meant driving across the country twice in as many weeks...a tall order resulting in us almost pulling the plug.  As the thoughts became heavier and heavier, I kept returning to the previous year's voicemail and realizing how far I had come over the last year.  I owed it to myself to make it back to the playa, regardless of how thin it stretched me.  I owed it to the mass of friends that couldn’t make it this year, to use my passion to create images and tell stories about the grand experiment that is Burning Man.  I had spent the previous three years at Burning Man learning about myself and why I live to create.  This year is was time to apply all the previous experiences and photograph the event as a full time photographer, the very thing I had been working towards for years.  In a city where everyone is a gifter, this was to be my offering.  

No time but now to live it.

The year since last Burning Man has seen me lose my job, move to Detroit, and begin photographing new subjects in ways I had never expected.  Photography is largely about perspective and vision, and this year I was certainly arriving on the playa with new and refined versions of both.  Having taken absolutely zero images last year meant I was primed for some seriously dusty adventures. 

Photographing Detroit has really opened my eyes to architecture, form, and design.  I knew the art installations of the open playa would provide plenty of challenging subjects to decipher and interpret with my lens. Pulsing LED lights, laser cut geometry, polished bronze, and angelic light had me continually overwhelmed and inspired when seeking out and photographing the art this year. 

Moving beyond landscape imagery has forced me to allow people into my frames.  Burning Man has always been challenging (and still is) for including people in my images.  Often times I used to find myself irritated or annoying about those people muddying up my frames, but this year I had to challenge those thoughts and actually PAY ATTENTION to when people were in my frames.  After all, it's the people who make the playa interesting.  

On this afternoon bike cruise we were hammered with arguably the heaviest dust storm we've ever experienced.  I snapped this moments before visibility shrank to 10 feet for the next hour.

Just a couple of pirates keeping it super sketchy on burn night. 

Amazing how in an incredibly dense city one can still find peace and solace. 

This was the year of the sunrise.  Mornings at Black Rock range from welcoming to alien, from moving to daunting, and from blissful to crushing.  It's a magical time that some wake up for, while others extend every night for.  In the past I had photographed several sunrises, but generally put the camera aside for mornings.  When Erin and I committed to our first sunrise of the year we were blown away by the color show, easily one of the best I had ever seen on the playa.  Choosing to leave my camera at camp became an intense internal fight I had to deal with during the entire sunrise.  This feeling, coupled with witnessing two kids watching their laptop during the sunrise (more on this gut wrenching experience coming up) had my emotional state in shambles, and it was only Wednesday.  After that morning I knew I couldn't miss the remaining sunrises, let alone not photograph them.  I was here to remind everyone (and myself) how wonderful it is to be alive and awake as the sun makes it's first appearance.

Morning view from the trash fence.  Tycho was 50 yards to my right providing a proper wake up for several hundred lucky folks. 

THIS.  Best sunrise I've witnessed, let alone shot, in four years on the playa.  After a chaotic night where The Man and many structures burned, welcoming Sunday like this was sheer magic. 

The Temple Of Promise against the softest of desert tones. 

These are my people.

Balloons to the moon.

One of the things I enjoy most about Burning Man is the innovation and ingenuity of the people attending.  After two years spent sweating and losing sleep in tents, last year I took the initiative and built a hexayurt, a 6 sided insulated folding structure.  It was a game changer.  Sleep was available at any hour and accommodations were as dust free as they come.  We were looking forward to building our yurt again this year, but we were more interested in making it a comfortable home this round.  Powered by the sun and decorated by the ever inventive lady of Eldorado General Store, my girlfriend Erin took the helm and created a space that provided all the comfort and style we could ask for.  Seriously this girl can decorate anything, anywhere. 

Hotel comfort and gypsy stylings in the harshest of deserts.  This is a direct result from previous year's inspirations and influences on the playa. 

The dance game. 

Burning Man has been an experience that not only has inspired, challenged, and changed me, but it's now my yearly celebration of independence.  I recognize now more than ever that it's important to utilize my photos and experiences at Burning Man to act as an ambassador not only for the event, but for a lifestyle.  A lifestyle of personal choice, kindness, and vibrancy .  A week at Black Rock City is less of escape and more of a reminder that you can go against the grain of society and not only survive, but thrive.  It's a week that is meant charge your battery and propel you towards a year where life is continually a little more like the playa.  I can't wait to see what unfolds until the man burns next year. 

Go forward in confidence, and when in doubt, burn it to the ground.