Burning Man

Gallery of regular photos from Burning Man 2010

As I prepare for Burning Man 2011, I realized I had not put my gallery of regular sized photos up on the web.

Much earlier I announced my gallery of giant panoramas of 2010 which features my largest photos in a new pan-and-zoom fullscreen viewer, I had neglected to put up the regular sized photos.

So enjoy: Gallery of photos of Burning Man 2010

I still need to select and caption 2007 and 2009 some day.

Burning Man 2010 Panoramas with new Flash Viewer

I have put up a page of panoramas from Burning Man 2010. This page includes my largest yet, a 1.2 billion pixel image of the whole of Black Rock City which you will find first on the page. I am particularly proud of it, I hope you find it as amazing as I do.

There are many others, including a nice one of the Man while they dance before the burn with the whole circle of people, a hi-res of the temple and the temple burn, and more.

However, what’s really new is I have put in a Flash-based panorama zoom viewer. This application lets you see my photos for the first time at their full resolution, even the gigapixel ones. You can pan around, zoom in and see everything. For many of them, I strongly recommend you click the button (or use right-click menu) to enter fullscreen mode, especially if you have a big monitor as I do. There you can pan around with the arrow keys and zoom in and out with your mouse wheel. There are other controls (and when not in fullscreen mode you can also use shift/ctrl or +/- for zooming.) A help page has full details.

Go into the gigapixel and shot and zoom around. You’ll be amazed what you find. I have also converted most of my super-size city photos of Black Rock City to the zoom viewer, they can be found at the page of Giant BRC photos as well as many of my favourites from the various years. I’m also working at converting some of my other photos, including the gallery of my largest images which I built recently. It takes time to build and upload these so it will be some while before the big ones are all converted. I may not do the smaller ones.

If you don’t have flash, it displays the older 1100 pixel high image, and you can still get to that via a link. If you have flashblock, you will need to enable flash for my photo site because it will detect you have no flash player and display the old one.

Get out the big monitor and it will feel like you’re standing on a tower in Black Rock City with a pair of binoculars. The gigapixel image is also up on gigapan.

Placing camps at Burning Man

One of the toughest challenges the Burning Man staff face is placing all the camps in the city. This stopped being an anarchy long ago, and the city is mapped and each camp given a precise area. The city has various “premium” locations which are valued in part for being close to things but mainly because they are high traffic for camps showing off interesting art or interactivity. Far more camps want to be in the premium locations than there is room, and almost everybody serious wants to be pre-placed somewhere so they can plan in advance and not have to race in the land-rush when the event officially opens.

(Some people like the land-rush. While you will not get a spot very close to the Esplanade or be able to be on the maps and calendars by address, you will get a bigger space for your group, because it’s “take what you dare.”)

Camps submit applications (this year by the start of May) describing the contribution they will offer the city, where they would like to be, and how much space they need. A team of placers (mostly volunteers with a few paid leaders) try to allocate the camps. They try to be fair, but the process is largely opaque, so any biases and mistakes are not generally visible to the community.

The process takes time, and the placement last year was announced to the community in early August, just a few weeks before the event. Camps are told only their approximate street location, and their dimensions. For reasons few have been able to fathom, the actual precise map, showing who is on corners and who is next to whom, is kept secret until the event itself. Many factors go into the decision, including camp density, past reputations, the various prime locations available, camps that want or don’t wan’t to be next to other camps, loudness and quality and interactivity of the art in the camp.

In 2009, the placers decided something which was a fairly big surprise to the community. They decided not to place around 120 of the camps that applied at all. Those camps were left to the land-rush, which meant a few distressing things for them:

  • They could not arrive in the city before the opening to set up; some had rather extensive structures to build.
  • They could not know where they would be in advance, so they could not tell their address to people in advance, or put it in the city calendar which is handed out at the gate.

The placement team decided not to place these camps because they did not want to find themselves placing the majority of the city. They wanted the city to retain some randomness and made a decision that only a limited fraction of the city would be subject to mapping in advance. If too many camps applied, those who did not make the cut would not be placed. This decision caused some controversy, and there are arguments for both sides. In addition to the non-placements, there were also many camps surprised by their placement (usually negatively) and, as would be expected in any large volunteer effort, a modest number of mistakes.  read more »

Panoramas of Burning Man 2009

I have put up a gallery of panoramas for Burning Man 2009. This year I went with the new Canon 5D Mark II, which has remarkable low-light shooting capabilities. As such, I generated a number of interesting new night panoramas in addition to the giant ones of the day.

In particular, you will want to check out the panorama of the crowd around the burn, as seen from the Esplanade, and the night scene around the Temple, and a twilight shot.

Below you see a shot of the Gothic Raygun Rocket, not because it is the best of the panoramas, but because it is one of the shortest and thus fits in the blog!

Some of these are still in progress. Check back for more results, particularly in the HDR department. The regular sized photos will also be processed and available in the future.

Finally, I have gone back and rebuilt the web pages for the last 5 years of panoramas at a higher resolution and with better scaling. So you may want to look at them again to see more detail. A few are also up as gigapans including one super high-res 2009 shot in a zoomable viewer.

Burning Man Exodus, Part II

Two years ago, I discussed solutions for Burning Man Exodus. The problem: Get 45,000 people off the playa in 2 days, 95% of them taking a single highway south which goes through a small town which has a chokepoint capacity of about 450 cars/hour. Quite often wait times to get onto the road are 4 hours or more, though this year things were smoother (perhaps due to a lower attendance) and the number of people with 4 hour waits was lower. In a bad year, we might imagine that 25,000 people wait an average of 3 hours, or 75,000 person hours, almost 40 man-years of human labour.

Some judge my prior solution, with appointments, as too complex. Let’s try something which is perhaps simpler, at least at its base, though I have also thought up some complexities that may have value.

When you are ready to leave, drive to the gate. There, as was tried in 2,000, you would be directed into a waiting lot, shaped with cones at the front. The lot would have perhaps 20 rows of 10 cars (around 150 vehicles as there are so many trailers and RVs.) The lot would have a big number displayed. There you would park. You would then have three options:

  1. Stay in the lot and party with the other people in the lot, or sit in your car. This is in fact what you would do in the current situation, except there you start your engine and go forward 30 feet every minute. Share leftover food. Give donations to DPW crew. Have a good time.
  2. Go to the exodus station near the parking lots. Get a padded envelope and write your address on it, and your plate number, DL number and car description. Put your spare set of keys in the envelope. Get on your bike, or walk back to the city, and have a good time there. Listen to Exodus Radio. They will give reports on when your lot is going to move, in particular a 30 minute warning. When you get it, go back, pick up your keys and get ready.
  3. Volunteer to help with city cleanup. Do that by driving to the premium section of the waiting lot. Park there, wait a bit, and then get on a bus which takes you somewhere to do an hour shift of clean-up. You moop check the playa, clean, take down infrastructure, or spend an hour doing Exodus work which you trained for earlier. At the end of your shift, you are free to take a bus back to the lot, or wait in the city with friends. Listen to Exodus Radio. They will call your premium lot. It will be called well before the regular lot. Ideally give an hour, gain an hour! Get there and be ready.

When your lot is called, the Exodus worker pulls back the cones and the lanes stream out, non-stop (but still 10mph) off the playa. The road does not have to be lengthened to hold more cars. At the blacktop entrance, an Exodus worker with a temporary traffic light has it set to a green left arrow except when other traffic is coming, when it’s red. You turn without hesitation (people do that on green arrows, but slow down for flag workers.) Off you go.


As noted, it seems a good idea that people who want to leave the lot leave a set of keys. Not their only set — it is foolish to bring only one set to the playa anyway, and if you read the instructions you knew this. This allows exodus workers to easily move vehicles for people who don’t return, and there will be some. Even so the lots should be designed so it’s not hard to get around them. If the first lane has a spare lane to the other direction that works. It does require somebody to hand back the keys. If you read the instructions, they will say to bring photos of yourself (and alternate drivers.) Tape that photo to the key envelope and it makes it very quick and easy for the key wrangler to hand you the right keys. Don’t bring a photo and they must confirm a DL number, which they won’t have time to do if time is short — so get there in plenty of time.

If you don’t get there in time to get your keys, you can wait, or you can pay $10 (or whatever it costs) and the BM Org will mail you the keys after the event. Of course with rental vehicles this is not an option, so be there early.

However, it may also be simpler to not do the key system, and tow people who don’t show up, and charge them a fat fee for that. Or tow those who don’t leave a key. People might leave a fake key, which would result in a tow and an even larger fine, perhaps. As such I am not wedded to the key desk idea and it may be simpler to first see if no-shows are a big problem. No-shows can be punished in lots of ways if they signed a contract before leaving.

There is an issue for people who do volunteer work and then head for the city. They need to have left keys before the volunteer shift, or return to the lot to leave them, or not leave them and risk a tow.


Volunteers would get a leader who directs them what they will be doing. A common task will be doing a playa walk/MOOP sweep. The leader will listen to Exodus Radio and know if things move quickly and the volunteers must return. Normally, however, volunteer shifts would be taken only when the line is very long, much longer than a volunteer shift. People can of course offer to do more than one shift when the line is long but in that case they should bring their own portable radio, just as people who leave the lot should bring one or be near one. The shift leaders could also have a radio on loud enough for all to hear, hopefully the DJ will be doing something fun between exodus lot announcements.

As noted, one of the things people can volunteer for is exodus work itself. The offer of early exodus in exchange for an hour of exodus work assures there can never be a shortage of workers as long as there is a base of workers that does it without that reward. You’re helping the people ahead of you in line get out earlier. However, regular (non-leaving) volunteers are needed for when the line is short and first bunches up, and for when it shortens again.

To do exodus work you would have to attend training in advance, and be certified as able to do it. Probably done in SF, but possibly on-playa. Some other volunteer jobs (such as cleanup crew leader) would require some training and approval.

Staff needed are

  • An exodus DJ (in a tower overlooking the line and the lots) with assistant or two who are controlling the whole operation.
  • Flag worker controlling the traffic light at the blacktop. Possibly others in Gerlach.
  • 2 crews of 1-2 workers directing cars into the lot currently filling up. They also prepare the lot, replacing the exit cones and possibly moving no-show cars to the side. May have a golf cart.
  • 1-2 workers diverting cars from the main exit lane merge (the “fallopian tubes”) to the staging lots when needed. A cop would be very handy here.
  • 1 worker to remove the cones at the lot being emptied and wave cars out of it. (The Exodus DJ is also telling those people to get going.) When only one lane is left, this person moves to the next lot. Worker probably has a scooter or golf cart.
  • 1-2 workers to man the key desk.


The police come in huge numbers and spend a lot of time on victimless crimes. Managing traffic is a a great way to make really effective use of their police powers. Police can be there to deal with people who ignore signs, bypass or cut out of lots, or who leave their car without doing a key drop or contract.

How to start the lots

It is an interesting problem how to start the lots close to the city. Initially the volume is low and people exit directly, and will tend to go in multiple lanes without a lot of work, eager as faster vehicles will be to pass slow ones. Eventually they will bunch up at the forced merge, and then the bunch up will spread backwards, traffic-jam style. However, this is taking place three miles from the city, at least 15 minutes drive at 10mph. There is a magic amount of back-up at which point you should start holding cars, and then a point at which you should release a lot full of them. Fortunately any short gaps you put in the stream are not wasted as they are re-smoothed on the blacktop before Gerlach-Empire, which is believed to be the primary choke point. However, it will take experience to learn the exact right times, so the first year will not do as well as later years. Data has been kept on car counts from the past, presumably broken down by hour, which could help.

Upcoming: Burning Man Decompression, ENIAC Talk, Convergence, eComm

Some upcoming events I will be involved in:

Burning Man Decompression, Sunday Oct 12

As I have for the past several years, I will show off my newest giant photographs of Burning Man at the “decompression” party, which takes place from noon to midnight on Sunday, Oct 12 (this coming Sunday) on Indiana St. south of Mariposa in San Francisco.

While decompression won’t get you to understand what Burning Man truly is, it’s the closest you’ll come while staying in the city. Come by, I will be easy to find with the giant photo wall. Come in “playa wear,” which means anything out of the ordinary, to get in for only $10.

Meet Jean Bartik, one of the world’s first programmers

The world’s first software team was a group of six women recruited to program the ENIAC. Jean Bartik was one of those six, and is giving a talk at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View on October 22 at 7pm. Prior to the talk, I am helping with a special VIP reception where you can meet Bartik, and see clips of a documentary-in-progress being done about the six earliest programmers. The producer is my friend Kathy Kleiman who needs financial contributions to complete the documentary. Unfortunately 3 of the women are now gone, but video interviews were made with them for this documentary.

If you would like to attend the VIP reception, send me a note.

Convergence conference on the Future

Foresight Institute, of which I am a director, is one of the organizations sponsoring Convergence 08 a futurist gathering with both scheduled debates on issues in AI, synthetic biology and longevity. Then there’s an unconference component where the attendees make the program. I’ll deliver my robot car talk, with video. This takes place the weekend of November 15, and Foresight Institute Senior Associates are also all invited.

On a side note, while I won’t be there as I will be at Alternative Party in Finland, on Oct 25, Futurists can also attend (at a higher price) this year’s Singularity Summit in San Jose.


Further in the calendar, check out eComm a conference on emerging telephony. This conference took up the mantle from the O’Reilly conference on the same topic, and now takes the mantle of the recently deceased VON conference. To find out what’s happening in VoIP and not-plain-old-telephone-service, check it out in early March of 09. I’ll be speaking on the EFF’s battle with AT&T over wiretapping and what it means for the new generation of telephony.

Why night panos are such a challenge

In my previous post, I noted that I had not done many night panoramas of Burning Man. I thought I should outline just why they are such a challenge.

To shoot at night, you need a time exposure, typically a second or more. You can capture lights and fires with far less, but if you want to capture the things illuminated by those lights and fires, you need a long exposure. Having both the light source and the illuminated subject in a shot is like shooting into the sun. There are a few things you can do to get away with a shorter exposure, but they don’t work well for this sort of work.

  1. You can bump the ISO on your camera. If you do that, you make the picture more noisy. This ruins it when you try the next technique…
  2. You can apply curves in photoshop to brighten the shadows but not brighten the highlights, which tend to be much brighter than the shadows, because they are the light sources themselves. But if you used high ISO, you will immediately highlight the noise. You can’t do both.
  3. You can be tricky about how you do your curves. I recommend first using colour range select to mask out the actual light sources and areas near them (highly feathered) and then do your curves so you are not brightening the area right next to the lights at all.
  4. You can use a fast lens, wide open. But if you do this, you will get a shallow depth of field, meaning that if the foreground is in focus, the background is blurry, or vice versa. Problem is, for panoramas, trying to capture a large sweeping area, shallow depth of field is not a good idea. My daytime panos are shot at f/8 or f/11.

So you’re stuck with a long exposure. Right away that’s going to cause a problem with moving things, notably people and vehicles. There is simply nothing you can do about this with a long exposure, unless you can command the world to stop.

  • I like to shoot panoramas from up towers, to capture the whole city. But towers at Burning Man are rarely built super-stable. They are usually scaffolding. If other people get on them, they wobble. That ruins almost any length of exposure.
  • Over the years, the only really stable platforms have been the man, when he was a pyramid, and the Black Rock Refinery of 2002. Other platforms would be stable if I could get them to myself, but that’s hard at Burning Man.
  • A boomlift can be good if you get it to yourself. But nobody on the boomlift can even shift their weight while the shutter is open.
  • In the dark, it’s easier to make mistakes, like leaving autofocus on. Or if you are doing manual focus, it’s much harder to do it. The autofocus often doesn’t work, and your eyes may not have something good to focus on either.
  • If what you are shooting is lit by fire, then the lighting is going to change form one frame to the next!

Now it gets worse. Since a full panorama like I take uses 36 shots, to get a perfect pano, every single one of them must be good. And that’s not going to happen. So you tend to take each shot 2 or 3 times, and hope that one of them works out. Problem is, the longer you wait between moves of the camera, the more likely something in the scene is going to move between frames, causing a blending problem.

You can check on the camera screen if the shot came out, but that’s very time consuming and just makes the moving car problem even worse. I have wished for some time that cameras had a review mode that was “Show me a full 1:1 pixel zoom of the region of the photo with the highest contrast and sharpest edges.” If that region is blurry, you know your photo is blurry. If that region is not your subject, you know you had bad focus. A button to cycle through the sharpest edges in the photo would help confirm this.

Some Nikon cameras had a mode to do this automatically — take 3 photos, and save the one with the least blur. I wish that mode appeared on my cameras.

So all in all, it’s a wonder they work at all sometimes. This year I had high hopes, because one crew built an 11 floor tower out of giant steel I-beams. But it wobbled a great deal at the top with all the constant traffic. It didn’t wobble as much on lower floors, but sadly at night they put up a giant screen and projected rather uninteresting photos onto it. The combination of the screen, and the projector light shining right at you, made photos from the stable levels impossible.

First six panoramas of Burning Man 2008

Back from Burning Man and still dusty, here are five large panoramas to give you a sense of it.

This year was great fun as always, this time in our own small Esplanade camp, rather than with Camp I Am. The main downside this year was the horrible playa conditions — think dust, including drifts that made it very difficult to bicycle in most places, and even my new art car was difficult to ride in a number of places, especially deep playa. It also meant whiteout dust storms on Monday, Saturday (delaying the burn) and Sunday. Nothing too bad but certainly frightening for newbies.

I’ll post more observations later, but here are a few for now:

  • An art car is great, and the car I inherited generated praise everywhere we went. Felt a little guilty taking it sometimes, but you can’t explain to everybody that you didn’t build it.
  • Next time, I’ll bring 3 spare air filters, though I don’t think it will be this dusty again. A snorkel on the air intake might also help. Plus, I think I would like to convert to battery power for the lights, though that will be a major operation.
  • With the big red ATM sign I bought, the ATM got a lot more traffic and we handed out almost all the playa money.
  • The phone, as usual, worked poorly for the first few days because the network never seems to work out in the outer city for some time. But it got some pretty giant lines, and heartwarming stories. We need to make a logbook.
  • The photo wall is getting too big. It documented 9 years this time (I removed 2001 since the photo is not that remarkable) and shrunk many others. I need to take a new approach, or get help building it, or both.
  • The theme went off OK, if anything the response was too wussy. Lots of flags, and while there was protest art it was not at all edgy or shocking as one might have expected. Most people stayed away from the theme, by and large. Not a failure like the Green Man but not a grand success like the Floating World.
  • Next year’s theme, Evolution, looks more promising.
  • While there are lots of quiet spaces, I never seem to find them. I left Camp I Am in part because most of what was left of art there was going to involve loud music (live, and good quality, but still loud) and that’s not compatible with my phone. Instead we got Entheon (which promised no music dome) playing very loud music in their non-dome right behind us, and Bomb Squad’s mobile music platform stayed at home more nights than it left. Sigh.

In the panorama collection this year are two rather interesting ones. One is a shot of the temple burn. Because I am in the crowd, the view behind me shows the clear faces of the people watching. Solemn, still, some crying. It says a lot.

Another shot, my largest single panorama to date, is a shot of the whole city, up close, from the tower of Babel. The tower 11 stories tall, all-steel construction, in the deep playa. The highest viewpoint built to date. Even with the steel beams, it was not stable enough for a photo at night at the top, and they blocked the ability to take photos from lower levels with a screen.

Update: I’ve added one of the temple.

Burning Man preparation rush

It’s amazing how much preparation is required for Burning Man. Or at least if you are crazy like me and plan to spend 11 days there, have 4 art projects, manage a new camp and still survive.

Unlike most trips you have to pack for, there is a paranoia about Burning Man packing that makes us overdo it. There are no stores, so if anything breaks or is missing, and you need it, you’re going to do without. If it’s so important that you must have it, it’s probably 5 hours of travel (if you can even move your vehicle) to Reno and back. Only basics are available in Gerlach. Sometimes you can find on-playa nice people who can help but there is no system for that, so you can’t depend on it. So you start taking a lot of stuff just in case. And as the deadline approaches you toss in stuff you don’t really need, just in case. Stuff you already packed and forgot.

Then after you inventory you realize you need to buy some things. Shopping for obscure things in the real world is very time consuming, but at this point online shopping isn’t available. If you can’t get it, you’re stuck, though since we started having internet, it’s been possible to get friends who are coming up later to help you. One year we helped a friend who find by Reno that she had left her tickets in San Francisco. With a rush of people helping, we got them to her in 5 hours.

Every year at this time we ask “is it worth it?” but by the end, we’re ready to do it all over again, and are making new plans.

This year I will be driving an art car. The car was built by two friends I met at Burning Man. Unfortunately, one of them lost a battle with cancer, and his wife is not ready to return, so I inherited the car. It’s pretty amazing, and gets comments everywhere it goes.

I will be at 3:45 and Esplanade, with the photo wall, American Dream Automated ATM Machine, Phone Booth and Art Car. Drop by if you’re there.

Three fantastic Burning Man stories

You non-burner blog readers are probably sick of the flood of Burning Man stuff this time of year, but I need to tell a few remarkable stories from the Playa this year about how sometimes, it all works out in amazing ways.  read more »

Burning Man Panoramas for 2007

I have generated several of my panoramas for this year’s Burning Man.

This year featured a double rainbow, and of course much of the week with no man on his pedestal.

The Burning Man Arson and the growth of Burning Man

As you know, I took photos of the burning man arson and put them up very quickly, so we did not yet know it was arson, or the reason.

Like most people, even before knowing it was arson was shock. Would this cancel the Saturday burn? Even to the jaded, the burn remains the climax of the event. It is the one time the whole city gets together and has a common experience. (This year the Crude Awakenings burn also did that.) My photos last year are Burning Man’s only “group portrait” I would expect. It has, however, become very much a spectator rather than participatory event. The days of volunteers helping to raise the man are long gone.

The burn has also become overdone, under the burden of having to be the climax of an already extravagant week. Each year they feel they have to outdo prior years, and that’s a slope that can’t be maintained. New burners (virgins) would be impressed by any level of burn, I think, so I presume they do it for themselves and a perception of impressing the old-timers. Still, it was disturbing to think the climax of the event would be removed, and good when it was clear the fire was not so bad as to stop a restoration or rebuilding.

But then I was surprised to see how positive the reaction was. Aside from the team that had their work destroyed (and would now have to give up several days of their event to rebuild) I would even judge the overall perception of the arson to be quite positive. Addis claims it was done with care to assure nobody was under the Man. Having had my own art vandalized (not nearly this badly) at Burning Man, I know how deeply that wounds. So I can’t approve of how it was done. But there was a large amount of support for what it meant. (Reportedly even from Larry Harvey.) In fact, since I didn’t talk to the rebuilding crew, I can’t say I met more than a handful of people who expressed any particular disapproval (or even non-approval) of it. And that surprised me, at first.  read more »

Burning Man's Green Man theme failed -- what about the American Dream?

Background: Burning Man is an astounding annual gathering in the remote Black Rock Desert of Nevada where up to 50,000 people create a temporary city for a week, which then vanishes. The city is devoted to art, creativity and radical self-expression. Since 1996, each year has had an “art theme” which provides inspiration for about a third of the art created that year, as well as the central Man. Burnin Man also has a strong non-commercial ethos you can learn about in other locations. In 2007, the theme was “The Green Man” which referred in people’s minds both to the folk nature spirit by that name, and also to environmentalism. The 2007 theme included a quasi-commercial pavilion around the Man, with exhibits ranging from a Tesla with the logos removed to demonstrations of algae production. Some of the themes succeed and some fare less well. Below was my review of the failings of the theme that year.

I have to judge the recent Burning Man theme “The Green Man” and the associated “pavilion” a failure. I don’t think this is particularly damning — something like Burning Man should be trying new ideas, and some should do better than others, and if none fail it means no risks are being taken. However, it’s worth examining the reasons for it.

The burning man organizers, who I count as friends (so don’t take this too hard if you’re reading,) took a lot of flack for even the quasi-commercialization found in the pavilion beneath the man. While the companies didn’t pay to be there, and could not put their names or logos on the exhibits, it could not avoid looking like a cross between commercial exhibits and, to be frank, bad science fair. It could not be avoided that people were coming to Burning Man for commercial reasons, that some people (aside from staff) were coming there as part of their jobs and being given center stage for it. In an event so devoted to non-commercial expression, there was no way this could not be seen as an incursion. And alas, the exhibits were not particularly interesting, somewhat heavy-handed and very sparsely attended. Due to the arson, the area was only open on Monday and Friday, and yet it had few people in it on Friday. In the past, the stuff around the Man has been a constant throng of activity week-long.

When I saw it, I could not help but say, “All that controversy and trouble for this?” Demonstration of interesting new technology is not a bad thing, but I think it has to be more natural, such as at the Alternative Energy Zone village, or implicit in an art car driving by showing off the technology for an artistic reason.

There was other, non-official commercialization as well. One Esplanade dome, rather than covering up the corporate logo as people have been encouraged to do, proudly declared it self to be “(Dome company)’s Earthdome.” This dome company, which I am not naming, did a number of promotional moves, trying to showcase their domes. They even asked one of the larger domes to be smaller so they could be the biggest! For the first time, I also had a Bayer rep (or so he claimed) hand me a packet of a Bayer stomach remedy after I ate some food being given away on the street. I have heard this has happened for several years.

I wrote early on in the year about how it was very difficult to have a green event because over 95% of the footprint of the event is involved in just getting there. Going solar or biodiesel (as we did) is just in the noise. Carpooling was the only way to be truly green at Burning Man, and there was a little of that, but not too much.

The theme of the Green Man was only taken as a “nature” theme by a few, and as an environmentalist theme by most. Little of the non-funded theme art pieces left much impression on me. And it seemed that the problem with environmentalist art is that it is likely to be “negative” art that is protesting something, rather than positive art exalting something. I have no problem with protest art, it is a vital form of art, but you don’t want the theme to be expressed overwhelmingly in one direction.

In addition, within a community like Burning Man, there is somewhat of an orthodoxy about environmentalism, and this made the art very unlikely to challenge that orthodoxy. Who was going to put up art that spoke to the folly of certain elements of the green movement. Instead, all the art could do was support the motherhood issues of environmentalism. The only controversy came from the event’s inherent ungreen nature — the irony of an art piece about oil worship burning huge amounts of fuel for our entertainment. Otherwise the theme could just as well have been “motherhood.”

There were, of course, impressive pieces, including in the protest art, like Crude Awakenings with its giant fireball. (Alas I missed my chance to take a panorama from the top as it opened late, had long lines and I didn’t think to use my photographer’s “juice” to get past the lines until too late.) Deeper in the playa, the most popular piece was Homouroboros, a strobe zoetrope featuring chimp-like proto-humans being fed an apple by a snake. (Last year everybody called Euchronia “the waffle”, and this year everybody called this piece “the monkeys” even though, lacking tails, they were not monkeys.)

Funding Art

As noted, the best pieces were funded. But this creates a problem of its own. The more that the most notable art on the playa is funded, the more it becomes a corporate exhibit. While the art budget is a small part of the ticket price, it gives the impression that people are buying tickets and this funds the art they will see, curated through a single channel. In the past, Burning Man art curation has been at most a gentle and remote assistance, but it is at risk of being a controlling force which decides, even if with the best of intentions and the highest impartiality, what the most noticed art will be. There is a danger of becoming an art show.

This is a tough problem. The increase in art funding came in part because people were generally disappointed by the level and quality of art in 2004. The Borg2 pushed for independent funding, voted by participants, and lots of it. Borg1 responded by providing even more art funding. We want to see a playa filled with impressive art, but the more we fund it the more it becomes a disneyland of funded artists and spectators. There may be no good solution.

The American Dream

The new theme “The American Dream” (and patriotism) is evoking strong reactions. I think it will produce better, more provocative work than the Green Man. There is a danger of orthodoxy here. As a counterculture, Burning Man inherently represents non-mainstream visions o f the American Dream. Will many artists represent more traditional images of patriotism and the American dream other than to skewer them? I have called Burning Man “the most American thing there is” because it represents the freedom that the USA has. Only the USA, it seems, would engender Burning Man. The ability to be free to do an event like Burning Man, with generally minimal interference, is a great expression of the American Dream.

But I suspect more will focus on the traditional meanings of it — success, buying a home, coming from afar and building a new life — and more cynical versions — conquering the world, making everybody whitebread in a house with a picket fence. Patriotism, I fear will be viewed largely in the negative. The official theme tries to remind people this is not to be about flag-burning, but there is a danger this theme could produce a lot of art that’s negative, and in line with counterculture orthodoxy. (And yes, there are orthodoxies in counterculture.)

But there is the chance for more, and I welcome it.

Improving Exodus at Burning Man

I’ve created a new blog category “Burning Man” to track my posts on the event. I was using a simpler tag before.

Today I want to talk about the Burning Man Exodus problem, a problem you might find interesting even if you don’t come to Burning Man. This year, even at 8pm Monday there was a long line and a 2 hour wait to get off the playa. Normally by about 5pm there is no wait. With 45,000 or more this year, and I presume at least 15,000 to 20,000 vehicles, and various chokepoints limiting traffic to 450 cars/hour, how do you drain the playa when everybody wants to go Sunday and Monday. (In addition, with so many now leaving Sunday, it makes Monday less interesting driving some who could leave Monday to leave earlier.)

It has now been routine to see waits of 5 hours or more at the peak times. I believe a solution should be possible involving some sort of appointment system, where cars are given a set time to leave, and they leave then. If they want to go at a peak time, instead of waiting 5 hours in line, they spend 5 hours in the city, or doing more cleanup, instead of idling their car in a giant line. Not that the line doesn’t become a little bit of a party, but it’s still not like being in camp. And for my exodus on Monday night there as the worst dust storm ever for Exodus, you could not see the car in front of you, or the fence beside you.

However, a good system to hand out appointments is hard to design. First of all, we have a mostly volunteer crew, and they don’t have much law enforcement power to stop violators or ticket them. (More participation by the police in this, when the city truly needs them, instead of having them be there for pot busts that nobody wants would be a great thing.)

Here are some of the constraints:  read more »

News: Burning Man burns on Monday

Update: I now have a whole Burning Man area on the blog!

I’ve not been blogging of late because I’m at Burning Man, and while normally I don’t report breaking news in this blog, we just witnessed a strange event. Through accident or arson, the Man was set alight this evening shortly after totality began in the eclipse of the moon.

The man was not loaded with explosives or fireworks as he is before his planned burn, so it was a more sedate affair, and soon fire crews arrived to “save the man” — something we have been asking for in mock protests for years. They did put him out, and he still stands, a bit worse for wear.

I managed to get some photos of the burn….

Efforts to save the man…

The injured man, missing a hand and burnt, under the eclipsed moon…

Burning Man 2006 Gallery

It’s way late, but I finally put captions on my gallery of regular-aspect photos from Burning Man 2006.

Some time ago I put together the 2006 Panoramas but just never got around to doing the regulars. There are many fun ones here, an particular novel are the ones of the burn taken from above it on a boomlift.

I also did another aerial survey, but that remains unfinished. Way too much processing to do, and Google did a decent one in google maps. I did put up a few such photos there.

Enjoy the 2006 Burning Man Photos.

Hard work for Burning Man to be Green

This year’s theme for Burning Man is “the Green Man.” It represents a lot of things. For many it just is an inspiration for art centered on nature or the environment. Others are taking it as a signal to try to be better environmentally. That’s going to be a very tough road for a festival centered on building a temporary city far from everything and pyrotechnic art.

So I wrote up some thoughts on the challenges involved. The toughest problem is that transporting an entire city to the desert and then taking it back is a great personal and artistic endeavour, but not one that can be considered green. All efforts to reduce the pollution at the event are dwarfed by the fuel burned to get there. So what can be done?

Read about the problems of having a green man.

Some early panoramas of the burn itself

While it will be a while before I get the time to build all my panoramas of this year’s Burning Man, I did do some quick versions of some of those I shot of the burn itself. This year, I arranged to be on a cherry picker above the burn. I wish I had spent more time actually looking at the spectacle, but I wanted to capture panoramas of Burning Man’s climactic moment. The entire city gathers, along with all the art cars for one shared experience. A large chunk of the experience is the mood and the sound which I can’t capture in a photo, but I can try to capture the scope.

This thumbnail shows the man going up, shooting fireworks and most of the crowd around him. I will later rebuild it from the raw files for the best quality.

Shooting panoramas at night is always hard. You want time exposures, but if any exposure goes wrong (such as vibration) the whole panorama can be ruined by a blurry frame in the middle. On a boomlift, if anybody moves — and the other photographer was always adjusting his body for different angles — a time exposure won’t be possible. It’s also cramped and if you drop something (as I did my clamp knob near the end) you won’t get it back for a while. In addition, you can’t have everybody else duck every time you do a sweep without really annoying them, and if you do you have to wait a while for things to stabilize.

It was also an interesting experience riding to the burn with DPW, the group of staff and volunteers who do city infrastructure. They do work hard, in rough conditions, but it gives them an attitude that crosses the line some of the time regarding the other participants. When we came to each parked cherry picker, people had leaned bikes against them, and in one case locked a bike on one. Though we would not actually move the bases, the crew quickly grabbed all the bikes and tossed them on top of one another, tangling pedal in spoke, probably damaging some and certainly making some hard to find. The locked bike had its lock smashed quickly with a mallet. Now the people who put their bikes on the pickers weren’t thinking very well, I agree, and the DPW crew did have to get us around quickly but I couldn’t help but cringe with guilt at being part of the cause of this, especially when we didn’t move the pickers. (Though I understand safety concerns of needing to be able to.)

Anyway, things “picked up” quickly and the view was indeed spectacular. Tune in later for more and better pictures, and in the meantime you can see the first set of trial burn panoramas for a view of the burn you haven’t seen.

Burning Man 2005 Panoramas

Hot on the heels of the regular photos the gallery of 2005 Burning Man Panoramas is now up. This year, I got to borrow a cherry picker at sunset on Friday for some interesting perspectives. The long ones are around 3400 by 52000 at full res (180 megapixels) and even the ones on the web are larger than before. Use F11 to put your browser into full screen mode.

This year I switched most of my generation to Panorama Factory, which in its latest verions has allowed fine control of the blending zone, so I can finally use it to deal with moving people in scenes.

Here’s a view of the temple, mostly because it has the narrowest thumbnail.

Burning Man 2005 Photos plus Aerial shots

I’ve gotten way behind on putting up my photographs, and I realized I had never put my Burning Man 2005 shots up. We’re already planning for 2006.

So I got them up this weekend. Of particular interest to burners this year will be the aerial survey I did of the city, over 200 close-up photos of just about every camp in the city from the sky.

And yes, I shot plenty of panoramas, and I have built most of them, but still don’t have the panorama page up.

So take a visit to my 2005 Burning Man Photos.

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