What began in 1986 on San Francisco’s Baker Beach with 20 people had by 2013 morphed into a temporary city of 68,000 in the high Nevada desert. To devotees, Burning Man is a not-to-be-missed annual spiritual, cultural and individual reawakening. To those who have never attended, it may appear to be a chaotic, dusty, anything goes week in the desert.
To Monterey photojournalist Michael Troutman however, it’s exactly the kind of personal and professional challenge he’s always sought. And he’s passionate about it. The theme of this year’s Burning Man was “Cargo Cult,” a reference to post-World War II Melanesia. There, people constructed crude effigies of aircraft in the hope of luring back the American servicemen who brought with them a bounty of riches. And, in the case of Burning Man, it worked: nearly 70,000 people were drawn to the Black Rock desert of Nevada (called “Black Rock City” or “The Playa”) from August 26 to September 2. Among them for his third visit was Troutman. “The experience of going back repeatedly refreshes and renews the things you learned previously,” he says. “This year, i stayed longer to get deeper into the experience, both as a photojournalist and a participant.”
Each participant experiences Burning Man differently—and it’s not for the weak or faint of heart. “It’s a challenging adventure on many levels: spiritually, physically and emotionally,” Troutman says. “You’re responsible for your own survival. It’s like camping on mars with 68,000 of your friends.”
But the hardship breeds a strong camaraderie and a communal caring for each other that seems to be missing in today’s society—what ‘burners call the “default world.”
“Burning man is deeply gratifying in unexpected and profound ways,” Troutman adds. “i can hardly wait to go back.”
“Burning Man 2013 courted the return of our benevolent Visitors from Elsewhere by constructing an enormous replica of their sky-craft,” from the burningman.com theme announcement. “Every year there’s a base on the Man, and this year it was a flying saucer. There was a piece of meteorite hung at the center. It was incredible to go in the thing. The view was spectacular.”
“ADAM AND SOFI”
“As a visual artist I strive to create images that reflect the subject’s soul. It unlocks part of me as well. It strikes me how amazing everyone looks. The Playa is a blank canvas so everything you put on that canvas stands out. Everyone is their own art piece. Everything at Burning Man is so meaning saturated that I find myself thinking about it and processing the experiences for the rest of the year.”
“At the center of Black Rock City, there’s a large covered area that serves as a community center. This is shot at 2 or 3am. People are talking, reading, writing; a couple of guys are doing yoga. There’s always performance art going on, some spontaneous, some scheduled.”
“Such an incredible diversity of mobile art and sound. Some of the installations are enormous, but just as amazing—in some ways more so—are the art cars like this one that represents a bee with flaming antennae. Almost all have a sound system, some of which are enormously powerful. Relaxing on an art car for an afternoon or evening is one of the very best ways to enjoy Burning Man.”
“I saw this series of onion domes on the Playa and went in. Colors are constantly shifting and changing. You could spend hours in this one place.”
Photo: Jim Urquhart/Reuters
Michael Troutman is a Monterey native and has been a photographer for more than 30 years. He started DMT Imaging in 2002, providing clients with insightful images for special events, corporate parties, sports competitions, advertising, portraiture and weddings. Troutman considers himself a generalist and is just as comfortable hanging out of helicopters with a camera as he is photographing grapes in a vineyard. He is also very active in the community and donates his time and photographic expertise to help local organizations and charitable causes. For more information about Michael Troutman’s work: www.dmtimaging.com. To learn more about Burning Man, visit www.burningman.com.