2008's theme, the American Dream, was of course quite controversial. Which in and of itself isn't a bad thing. Nobody wants Burning Man to become complacent. But in a way the theme seemed almost redundant to me. It may seem a pretty obvious statement, particularly coming from a Canadian living in Britain, but Burning Man is fundamentally and inherently an American event already. It couldn't possibly have been invented anywhere else.
But Black Rock City isn't the America of witch trials, McCarthyism, bloody wars for money, rapacious unregulated corporate greed, slavery and segregation, religious extremism, automobile gridlock, lynchings. It's the America of barn raisings, of minority, gay and women's rights, technological innovation, rethinking social assumptions, the rejection of birthright and stratified class, environmental activism, the Internet, the freedom of new ideas.
There has always been a multiplicity of very different Americas living restlessly in the same country, but unfortunately the former lot currently seems to be overshadowing the latter lot these days, which made this year's theme a challenging and somewhat polarizing one.
Still, perhaps the theme ended up additionally appropriate, given the brutal back alley beating that the fantasy of the American Dream was given in the real world shortly after Black Rock City wound down. But it also meant that a lot of people seemed to think that participating in the theme meant buying a made-in-China floppy Uncle Sam hat and screaming the "America, Fuck Yeah!" song from the Team America movie. And whether it was the theme or the self-destructing US economy (particularly high fuel costs), I don't know, but there definitely were fewer "wow" pieces on the playa this year than in years gone by.
That's not to say that there wasn't some really cool art around if you looked. From the pyrotechnic splendour of Mutopia's big show to the incandescent geekiness of Hydrogen Economy to the ingenious elegance of Bat Country to the delightful friendliness of Swarm, there was definitely great stuff. And playa veterans like Michael Christian, who brought his deliciously dangerous Elevation this year.
Shame about the weather, though. This year the playa surface, instead of being the lovely concrete-like baked clay that we all know and love, was a nasty friable soft crumbly mess. The top layer collapsed into dusty sand, making cycling and even walking a real slog and a chore. Add to that a load of heavy dust storms, including a 12 hour whiteout on Monday and a 6 hour one on Saturday, and you had very tough playa life. My camera gear was not happy.
Still, a week on the playa beats a week anywhere else. And here are some of my photos from this year for your viewing pleasure.
Thanks to LadyBee, Doug
Jones, Saffron Lee, Panther, Chaos, Crimson Rose, Yoms, Gary,
Mills and the Flaming Lotus Girls, Dominique,
Frequency, Jean Margaret. Extra thanks to Squishelle and the other denizens of Chillage, and Edie Babe and Pi for hauling my ass out on the playa for a little fun on Saturday night. And Jennifer for supporting me on this crazy trip all these years.
Note that the thumbnails below take you to the first shot in each group, not necessarily to the image depicted. Also, no people photos this year, really. My studio gear is in Seattle and London but I flew into San Francisco and tried to travel light. Maybe next time.