So you’ve had a pretty good weekend but imagine this: you’re at a week-long festival in the Nevada desert. The rules are different here: it’s ok to wear no clothes, and cover yourself in body paint – hedonism, beauty and creativity are encouraged. Towards the end, the mind-blowing, larger-than-life art installations and sculptures are set on fire, leaving no trace. WILD. It can only be Burning Man. Eager to know more, we talked to photographer Scott London who captured our imagination with his visually-arresting and surreal imagery.
Why are you compelled to go back year after year?
Burning Man is one of the most interesting events in the world, in my experience, but also one of the most difficult to describe. It’s not quite an art festival, not quite a desert rave, and not quite a social experiment, but something of all three. What’s remarkable about it is that it’s organized around creativity and self-expression.
The scale and the ephemeral nature of the event must be hard to communicate to people who haven’t been there.
Yes, there is no way to convey the sheer immensity of Burning Man to someone who has never been there. There is also something rather dreamlike and enchanting about the way it rises out of the open desert for a few brief days only to vanish again after the event is over. Toward the end of the week, much of the infrastructure – including the 40-foot effigy from which Burning Man takes its name – goes up in flames.
When I first attended the event, I was struck by the sheer inadequacy of words. Photography seemed like a more powerful medium for documenting the experience. Photographs convey but don’t interpret.
Have you noticed it changing and evolving over the years?
When the event got started 25 years ago, it was little more than a bonfire on a beach in San Francisco. It moved to the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada some years later but was still relatively small and unstructured. For many participants, the appeal of the desert was that there were no rules. If you wanted to shoot guns, play with fire, or blow up cars, there was no one to stop you. But as the event grew, so did the need for order and safety. Today the event attracts over 50,000 people from all over the world. It’s highly organized and tightly run, and perhaps a little less fun. Old-timers complain that the anarchy and lawlessness of the early days has been lost.