This year was my test.
I'd been studying, practicing, learning, and this was the time to combine all the elements in my visual toolkit. Landscapes, architecture, lifestyle; throw them all together and shake vigorously. Muddle in weeks of travel, generously add in loads of dust, stir in a broken camera, and while we're at it lets stretch the mind further that ever before and dance along the edge of complete physical exhaustion. Sounds like a pretty tasty cocktail, right?
While I was certainly on the playa to further skills, my attendance also came with responsibilities. A large faction of our friends sat out this year (a first for many) and there were resounding pleas to dive in extra hard this year, for them. In fact if it weren't for some friends sitting it out, we wouldn't have had the chance to even attend. And because of the gracious ticket offer we received, we were given marching orders: embody the raven. Set out as mythical messengers dedicated to bringing back stories for those not in attendance. While I didn't see seven sunrises, (sorry Bryan) I did my best to tell the stories of my experience.
Pilgrimages to the playa more than ever now represent an opportunity to bring something back to the default world and this year Erin and I had missions. Erin had recently won a grant set for creating improvements to our Detroit neighborhood and the playa was flush with study material to experience and note. In particular the Hybycozo project was a favorite draw for us, as we already knew their geometric creations were something we wanted to incorporate into our Detroit project. Inspiration found us not just at Hybycozo, but all over as if artists had read Erin's dreams. Interactive lamps spun to cast psychedelic shadows, glistening chandeliers accented in disco balls reflected all the colors of the rainbow, and mirror encrusted chambers challenged your perception of reality.
Magic levels were high this year folks.
It's happening more and more in my work and perhaps Burning Man is to blame, but I'm continually interpreting scenes wider and taller. Bigger skies with smaller more nuanced details. I'm finding that this perspective is one of the only ways to truly show the expansive scale of the open playa. Executing these scenes is challenging and incredibility time sensitive, so naturally I figured practicing it as sunrise while extra weary was the best way to get better. Pedaling as fast as my cruiser bike would allow, I'd scan the horizon and scout the vast expanses of the open playa each morning. Lining up shots via bicycle is my absolute favorite way of shooting. The immediacy and flexibility you have on a bicycle is second to none and the ability to freely roam gives you unparalleled opportunities to pedal until you've lined up the vision. Art installations are my first markers and determining how they interact with the alien desert landscape is always the first task. After the perspective is locked-in comes the tough part. The people. Understanding how and when people, cyclists, or art cars will interact or effect the scene is the hardest element to predict, but it's always the lynch-pin to creating something stellar. It's these interactions that create the true magic. Make sure to click on these panoramic images to see their full size and scale.
It begs reminding, but each year I've learned that although the playa doesn't get easier, it does get better.
It's an endurance battle and no matter the preparation you'll run into physical and mental challenges. Frankly it's these challenges that keep us coming back. I'm there to see how far my fatigued legs can pedal at sunrise after a dancing all night. I'm there to help friends navigate whatever the dusty week of adventures may throw at them. I'm there to push through malfunctioning camera gear to find out if I'm actually skilled at this at all. More on that in an upcoming series, but a quick note; one of my cameras malfunctioned when I was dust proofing it rendering the LCD screen completely unusable. I had to use that camera as if it were shooting film, no screen reviews, no data display, no menu functions, etc. Burning Man really doesn't "start" until you've had an emotional meltdown and witnessed your first sunrise, after that the gloves are off and you're all in. As the marathon unfolds growth and bliss will find you certainly, as will failure and understanding. Those are the real lessons, the ones that you carry with you the entire year until you do it all again.