So, what exactly is this Burning Man thing anyway? ******* The roots of Burning Man go back to 1986 at Baker Beach in San Francisco, where a couple of dozen friends gathered for a party and raised an eight-foot wooden stick man into the air, then burned it just for fun. *** The man who constructed and burned it, Larry Harvey, claims publicly that both the figure and the act had no meaning whatsoever at the time. Whatever meaning anyone might give either, over the years the party grew in popularity, until it got big enough to create a temporary city for an annual art festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, called Burning Man. *** In 2008 almost 50,000 people attended Burning Man, in one of the most inhospitable climates of the North American continent. Before the last Ice Age, more than 12,000 years ago, this location was the bed of one of the largest lakes in the world at that time, Lake Lahontan, which at its greatest extent covered more than 8,000 square miles. *** Today it’s almost as dry as Mars and sometimes feels not quite as hot as Venus. For little more than a week a big party becomes a town called Black Rock City, the actual name of the ‘city’ built at the festival, which has its own electrical infrastructure, department of power, security, medical team, cafe, ice store, radio stations, newspapers and even an ‘alternative’ newspaper. If it keeps growing at the same rate of the last few years, BRC will soon crack the top ten most populated cities in Nevada, if only for a few days; once they pass Carson City with its population of more that 55,000. *** Black Rock City also has a central idea, that citizens of this temporary community are indoctrinated with from the very start: “radical self reliance.” *** Water and all other camping supplies must be brought in by the individuals attending. A gallon of H2O a day, per person, is recommended and in the desert heat not having enough can easily be fatal. In fact there seem to be more years that someone dies at Burning Man than not. They even warn you on the ticket that you might not get back to civilization alive and they are not joking about that. *** The Black Rock Desert gives everyone plenty of room to do whatever they end up doing. The nearest town, Gerlach, is home to a few hundred people and lies about seven miles to the south. The festival’s exact location -- on the dry lake bed commonly referred to as ‘the playa’ -- is a perfectly blank canvas for the art that citizens of Black Rock City make; yet between the searing heat and frequent dust storms it can also be the rottenest side of nasty for humans. The Burning Man survival guide states that daytime temperatures “routinely exceed” 100 degrees F. (37.73 C) and once in a while thermometers dip down close to the freezing point of water at night. Dust-storm winds can reach up to 75 m.p.h. on the playa, which sits about 4,000 ft. (1.22 Km) above sea level. Radical or not, anything that that needs to be done there is done by BRC citizens, some of whom like to call themselves ‘burners.’ *** Here’s a collection of images that I photographed at Burning Man, gathered from seven different years. *** Larry Harvey once pointed out that some day, this festival will come to an end and be just a memory. Because of the “Leave No Trace” philosophy, which the organization and many BRC citizens strive to achieve every year, when the festival is finally done and gone the only proof that it had ever existed will be in the videos and photographs of this extraordinary event. *** Perhaps nothing underscores the difference between the people of the western USA and the rest of the world more than this festival. It’s hard to imagine Burning Man coming from anywhere other than the West. *** All photographs are property of Thomas K. Pendergast and Burning Man LLC and may not be copied or reproduced for commercial purposes without written authorization.