A Burning Man Retrospective

Memories of Unchained Creativity on the Playa

A Burning Man Retrospective

There may be no event on Earth clouded with more confusion than Burning Man. Everyone who's heard of it has an opinion about what it is, what takes place there and who actually attends this insane gathering in the middle of the Nevada desert.

I collided with the confusion head-on at my first Burn. The reality of Burning Man is an onslaught, and I responded by falling back on my photographer's instincts, attempting to capture the dreamscape of Black Rock City.

There's a certain sentimentality when I look back on these images now, because in the years since I've arrived at a different relationship with Burning Man. I no longer take my camera. People always ask me how, as a photographer, I can justify missing the opportunity to shoot one of the most bizarrely photogenic happenings anywhere in the world. But it's simple: The place can't be captured in two-dimensional form. The stunning visuals, the atmosphere and energy, the pure heart and soul that make the Burn so special…none of these things can be taken home with you. The essence of Burning Man can only truly be experienced in person. Some memories are best left imprinted on the mind.

The Bus to Nowhere

In many ways this is what Burning Man is all about. There is no rhyme or reason to what takes place in Black Rock City; not everything has to make sense. Finding a way to step out of the everyday, workweek mentality is the goal for many who attend.

Unchained Creativity

In manifestations you've never dreamed of encountering, creativity is all around you. People scrap together items from all walks of “normal” life to create art cars, mutant vehicles and other works of moving art, such as this mobile recliner.

Natural Interplay

Not all of the Burning Man onslaught is generated by its human participants. Exposure to the elements — dust storms, extreme temperature shifts — quickly becomes a fact of life.

At Scale

So many of the objects on the Playa are powered by group participation. These monster wheels could never be influenced by an individual, but a group of random strangers, of fellow Burners, will come together to create movement, to roll this beast off into the dust.


Late afternoon, just as you're finally getting around to napping off the night before, this Mad Max parade leader is kicking off the next one. The sun is getting low on the horizon; it's time to start again.


Names, faces, identities are up for grabs. This group of Martians is making their way back to base camp through the dust.


It begins as a distant glint on the Playa, your curiosity pulling you towards it. Getting closer it takes shape, but the mystery remains. It's not until you commit to taking that final step, to stepping inside, that you comprehend the message being transmitted.


Things come alive in the heat of the afternoon and the blowing dust. Better watch your back.

Launch Pad

This crowd favorite became a place of congregation. People were drawn to it, coming together to hang out, to discuss. The rumors: Could it fly? Blast into space? Was it just a rumor or could it actually happen?


The stock expression of the Playa, especially on first-timers.


10,000 years ago, the Playa was covered by the waters of Lake Lahontan. This 40-foot commercial fishing boat is in the right place at the wrong time. Or maybe it's simply waiting for the cycle to repeat.


The event culminates at the end of the week with the burning of the Man. It's a bittersweet moment of reflection, encompassing all of the vivid memories of the past few days, as well as the recognition that this great social experiment can never last forever. All Men must burn. The week lives on as a dream in your mind…or at least until the next time your feet step onto the Playa.

This Is It

This is the moment, the fulcrum, connecting past and future into one transitional now. This is the moment of beauty I find myself returning to, whether it's via the memories on film, or the ones I hold only in my mind.

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Scott Sporleder

Sinds hij afstudeerde aan de San Diego State University heeft Scott 3 maanden per jaar gewijd aan reizen en het fotograferen van alle unieke culturen op de wereld. Als hij niet onderweg is kun je Scott iedere zomer komen bezoeken op het Sawdust Festival in Laguna Beach.
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