Caravansary: Burning Man, 2014. The (almost) Full Story. Part 2
On the Playa, Day 2
Near 330 AM, my trusty iPhone started shouting obscenities (ok, they were just little ring tones, but at the time...with 3 nights of little sleep…they sounded pretty damn harsh). I set the alarm to make sure I made it to visit some friends I met during our will call wait as we arrived to Black Rock City. They were DJs from London and were doing a show at a Theme Camp called Ooligan Alley. I told them I’d come shoot some photos for them and check out the show. I arrived on my trusty (and dusty) steed (beach cruiser) just before the 4AM show. As I was on the way to the camp, I was amazed at how many people were buzzing around, music and art cars were everywhere, and that same palpable, invigorating energy was coming from every direction. After a few hugs and a swig of…ahem…juice…I took out the camera and the show began. The DJ booth was built inside the nose of an old airplane. I’m thinking it was a DC9 or something from the 70’s. Bodies bumping into each other, the beat of the music coursing through the air, and the feeling of complete aliveness and freedom were instantly palpable. After a great night…er…uhhh….morning…I headed back to camp to take a nap. The problem was the damn theme camps. They were so perfectly inviting. Needless to say, I never made it back for a nap. Rather, I met hundreds more people, had breakfast in a camp of folks from Canada, and shot portraits as gifts to give to people when we all returned to the “Default World”. This was a photographers dream and a long day of shooting. I shot over 1500 photos that day. As night fell, it was time to get some rest. I was so overwhelmed with the sheer scope of Black Rock City. The people were so diverse and interesting, friendly and inviting, and the fashion at Burning Man makes people watching quite the adventure in and of itself.
Today started with breakfast at the Emergency Services Division Camp and an opportunity to catch up with Paul and some of the other “Burners” we’d met since arriving. Todays plan for me was to get out and meet as many people as I could and perhaps find some interesting stories to write about. Photography in direct sun isn’t ideal, so I figured I’d save the photo part of it until the later part of the day and switch back to shooting portraits of people as a gift and trying to catch a few good shots of the art and life of BRC to send to the Burning Man Organization to contribute to the documentation of BRC 2014! There was so much to see and do, I literally couldn’t stop. The energy, art, music, people, and the notion of being completely away from “civilization” felt amazing. I connected with a couple photographers I’d met on the first day of the Media Mecca art car tour and talked about life and had a few drinks. We travelled all over the Playa on our cruiser bikes looking at art installations, art cars, and did some epic people watching. It was somewhat of a recovery day for me as the long drive and high energy of the first 2 days was finally starting to kick in. I shot another 300 or so photos before sunset and went back to camp to get some sleep. Our camp had grown again. The girls had changed into the nights coolest outfits and the guys looked like musicians that hung out on the set of Mad Max a couple times too many. Everyone was decked out in Burning Man attire. They were all lit up like a Christmas tree with blinking lights, colorful accent pieces, and reflective glitter. It was a sight, to say the least. They were “going out.” What’s funny is, it really wasn’t unlike a night on the town in some ways, at least as far as the idea of “going out”. There was dancing at various theme camps, DJs spinning tunes through the night, and plenty of adult…stuff… This town, of course, was like no other. After a couple drinks and a quick run down of everyone’s adventures from the day, I bid the more ambitious part of our tribe ado and dove into my tent…literally. I remember thinking…”I. Must. Sleep. Now-ish.” No iPhone wakeup call this time.
Oh, and I learned a new Burning Man term.
1 1. A person clothed with little or no light, blinking light, nor reflective outfit while walking, biking, and dancing around the Playa at Black Rock City at night thus making said under prepared individual much more likely to be hit by a vehicle, bicycle, or a giant winged banana being ridden by a cowboy. Just use your imagination. It’s there. And if you’re not illuminated, you could be the Darkwad that gets hurt.
Today was the day I realized how important this experience was to me in terms of changing my life and making it a personal intention to share what I learned and felt on this epic journey with others back “home”.
Paul and I suited up and headed to center camp to treat ourselves to a much needed coffee. After visiting with a couple dozen strangers I felt I’d known for years, we decided to check out this thing called “The Temple”. I’m going to tell you about this special place. In all honesty though, I’m not an experienced, nor qualified enough writer to do it the justice it deserves. The Temple is a place to let go, remember, and celebrate. It became a tradition years ago and is an iconic part of Black Rock City. As I approached this amazing structure standing above the stark floor of the lakebed we called home for a week, I was in awe. In fact, I’m at a loss for words to describe what it felt like approaching this beautiful example of human collaboration and dedication. I stopped and shot a few photos hearing this voice in my head “I hope the Burning Man Organization or someone can use these photos to share this feeling, this place”. I wanted to donate in some way, any way, to this incredible idea. I felt an awe that inspired me by its virtue alone. As we walked toward the entrance, there was a surreal feeling that literally covered me and embraced me. Well, that’s the best I can explain it anyway. I lowered my camera and walked through the opening of the hand-crafted walls. To my immediate right was a picture of a beautiful Boston Terrier. I grew up with this breed of dog. They’re so hilarious! This was a different photo though. Under the cute picture was a note scribed by someone who posted the photo. “You were such a trusty companion. You were funny, stubborn, and you snorted too much… seriously, too much. We love you and will always miss your spirit. Rest in peace.”
I don’t know anything about the person, or persons, that posted the photo. I do know loss, grief, and feeling for something you cannot hold on to any longer. I realized the beautiful power of this place. As I looked from my right to my left, I saw people writing on the walls, placing photos, hugging, crying, standing and looking at the center of the Temple with stoic looks on their faces. I realize this sounds “negative” or “fatalistic” perhaps, but, it’s not that at all. You see, this is a place that humans can move forward from a place of love. They can honor and celebrate their lives and those who have impacted them. They can decide to ceremoniously move forward. It was here, at the Burning Man Temple, I realized this really is an inspiration for how life could be. The tenants of burning man and this place, could literally be the model for a new society. I’m referring to a society of collaboration, love, peace, human ingenuity, and expanding consciousness. The temple is an important part of the journey. We’re crossing a threshold here.
I felt a weight. My eyes watered and I felt as if I couldn’t even pick up my camera here. This wasn’t the place. My mind raced through all of the things that made up my life. I remembered things I would prefer to forget, and remembered things that made me swell with a feeling of pride and love. This was a magical place. Here’s what I find most interesting. Intricate, yes…but, it’s a wooden structure in the middle of a prehistoric lakebed. So, what made all of this “feel” the way it did?
We walked out of the Temple and stood in awe. Then, something happened. Paul was going through a challenging time, and this experience affected him. As I was asking my great friend, “are you ok?”, a person approached us. It happened almost on cue. This person walked to Paul and put her arms around him and stayed there. She was one of the Temple Guardians. Yes, I’m being serious. Everything at Burning Man is a contribution to the greater good. These people hail from all over the world and dedicate their days at Burning Man to comfort those experiencing a transformation. They’re dressed in elaborate garb and hail from all over the world. This is the part I feel I can’t quite express to do it justice.
After a few moments, the Temple Guardian asked if we were ok and upon confirmation of that, she said “love is a strange thing, isn’t it. I wish the best for you both. I see someone that needs me and I’d like to walk over there.”
The rest of the day was more of a meditation on life for me. I won’t bore you all with that.