Burning Man 2012: Spectacle in the Desert
The Burning Man festival, which concluded its 26th edition September 3, describes itself as an "annual experiment in temporary community dedicated to radical self-expression and radical self-reliance". If that sounds heavy, help is hard to come by. "Trying to explain what Burning Man is to someone who has never been to the event is a bit like trying to explain what a particular color looks like to someone who is blind," says the event's official website. What started in 1986 as a small-scale gathering of experimental artists and alternative culture enthusiasts on a San Francisco beach today sees the participation of over 48,000 people in Black Rock Desert, Nevada. The epicentre of the event is the playa, a dry seasonal lake bed that may flood into a muddy puddle with sudden, unannounced rain. Each year the festival has seen new themes, increased participation from "burners" and a burgeoning sense of awe among those who follow it, even if from a distance. Entry to the festival is coveted, and tickets are prohibitively expensive, ranging from $240 to $420. The 2012 festival, themed 'Fertility 2.0', concluded on September 3, the American Labor Day holiday, with the ritual burning of the effigy of the Man. Despite its growing popularity, Burning Man has not been free from controversy. Though one commandment governing the community is 'Leave No Trace', environmentalists have raised concerns about the festival's increasing impact on the surrounding environment, especially from "burn scars" left by the various rituals. Motor vehicles, but for those in art installations, are banned from entering the playa. Media access is also highly restricted and all video cameras are tagged. These rare photographs reveal vignettes from a momentous week in the life of a unique human community.
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