Saturday, September 16, 2006

Burning Man... Where's the Art?

Every year, tens of thousands of people converge on a desert in northwest Nevada for the annual Burning Man festival. Featuring huge combustible sculptures, bright lights and music, the event attracts a particularly large proportion of artists and artsy types. Naturally, you would expect that all that artistic talent feeding off each others' mojos in such a visually-appealing location would create some great photographs, right?

Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case.

For years, I've combed through hundreds (no, thousands) of Burning Man photographs on the internet, looked at many photographs that my friends brough back, and I even visited (with disbelief) an exhibit of Burning Man prints hosted by a group that was very closely associated with the central coven of B.M. organizers. With the exception of some of Susanne Friedrich's daytime portraits, I feel very safe to say that most of the canon of Burning Man photos out there are nothing more than snapshots. Some of them are very nice snapshots, but they ain't art. Maybe there is too much artistic mojo at that place? Or, maybe, they're having too much fun doing other things to create art. But if there's good work out there, they're doing a good job of hiding it.

So, now that I've probably offended ten percent of the population of San Francisco, I want to say that I was eagerly looking forward to seeing what Bay Area night photographer Lane Hartwell was going to return with from this year's Burning Man.

(photo: Lane Hartwell)

We were not disappointed. These were my two favorite photographs of Lane's from Burning Man. What strikes me the most about these two is that it seems that she stepped back and carefully thought about both of them. The above shot says to me that it was taken in a very special place. The shot below says to me that there was something magical going on out there.

Snapshots, as a point of comparison, don't say anything other than "I was there".

(photo: Lane Hartwell)

I'd like to add that I have nothing against Burning Man. It's seems like a great event, and I wish I could attend some year. And I have nothing against the gizillion people who have taken photographs at Burning Man and posted them on the internet or put them out for public display. But if you know of a cache of any other really good BM photos, let me know. I really would love to see them.


Blogger CP said...

I had an employee that had attended many BM events and from what I heard (and from his own personal photos) the event surrounds a very visual surrounding where it may be uncooth to use modern equipment to try to reproduce what is intended to be a deeply personal experience.

All BM aside, I'll say that I am intrigued by your blog. I am a graphic artist and former photographer, and night photography has always peaked my interest.

I look forward to visiting again.


9:55 PM  
Blogger Tim Baskerville said...

Hm-m-m, maybe try a new text (available thru PhotoEye - "A Decade of Burning Man: Photography from Desert to Dream."

Photographs by Barbara Traub. Text by Les Blank, Larry Harvey, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Leonard Nimoy. Immedium, San Francisco, 2006. 160 pp., 130 color and b&w illustrations, 11x10".

2:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

5:27 PM  

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