My 'Burning Man' experiences

   'Burning Man' is a kind of art festival held yearly in the Black Rock Desert, begun and still more or less guided by Larry Harvey, who with friend Jerry James built and burnt an 8 foot wooden effigy on San Francisco's Baker Beach on the evening of the Summer Solstice, June 21 1986. Some 20 friends and strangers gathered and partied around the fire. This was at the time one of numerous activities in the annual Baker Beach art and bonfire gatherings begun by Mary Grauberger in the early 1980's. If there is any place where a good tradition can take hold, it is that beautiful city and the region's concentration of educated creative people. A guild of carpenters emerged to perform the annual fabrication of the effigy which grew to stand 40 feet tall. In 1990 the event outgrew the beach and was moved, in a saga unto itself, to The Black Rock Desert where the postponed Burn took place on Labor Day weekend of that year. In essence the Burning of the Man was merged with a planned desert event by the San Francisco Cacophany Society, whose members were some 90 percent of the 300 or so attendees that year. The event has since become a tradition which has taken on a life of its own. Detailed information concerning the event is at the official Burning Man web site, which is must reading for all who might consider attending. My accounts also contain useful playa camping information. (more below)




















































 One is certainly not guaranteed to have a good time at Burning Man, and the physical demands and discomforts one must endure will alone deter many from spending a week in a very parched and sometimes very hot dry lake bottom hoping it stays dry during that week. By a combination of extraordinary effort by the Burning Man organization and good fortune only a few people have died at the event, but dozens are hurt every year from taking preventable risks. People have been fatally injured or burned over the years but have expired after being taken from the event. One such case was from a plane crash in 2003. As far as I'm concerns if people die during transit to a hospital they still 'got killed' at the place the fatal injury occured. Three suicides, and perhaps twice that number of accidental deaths, have happened there since I began attending. It is a kind of futuristic frontier event where you have to occassionally take your life in your hands. You cannot afford to lose track of your surroundings.

In presenting these accounts of what I saw at these extraordinary gatherings I have tried to be relatively objective yet convey the way things felt to me and those around me. The events unfolding during these week long festivals were sometimes experienced directly, sometimes relayed second hand. In cases where after initial releases of the accounts I have been given reason to believe something did not happen I have deleted or labeled the passage in question as probably rumor. Some later details worth noting have appeared on the 'E-Playa' at the BM site and at 'Tribe.Net' which, if I judge them as credible, are sparingly used to suppliment the picture I was personally able to gather.

If there is any audience I would wish to direct these stories to it would be the artists, or those with the artist deep within them, who have the desire for an adventure and to share creativity in some way. I write my accounts to preserve first hand impressions of something amazing and adventurous trying to survive in an increasingly predictable and enslaving world. It needs others who wish to escape and create an alternate reality for that week of the year to continue to thrive. I feel this yearly event will be remembered and recognized as a cultural influence for some time to come, but until some definitive histories emerge from the organization fragmentary accounts such as mine and many others will assist in adding up to something, as many hands feel their portions of the invisible elephant.

 These essays, if events warrant, may include profanity and unrecommendable behavior. The novelty of the nudity wore off long ago so there is hardly any to be seen here, but faces were blurred or otherwise hidden for privacy considerations in such rare instances. If you see yourself somewhere in an image and you don't like it, get in touch with me and I'll take care if it. Links to this site


all photographs and text © Don Davis, but the works shown and described therein are obviously the intellectual property of their originators.


* this year I missed the event, so second hand photos and general editorializing fill this brief entry.