Burners by Nicholas King, Design by Michael Motley
I first learned about Burning Man the year my wife died from ALS. The impression I got from the New York Times articles was that it was rather wild freethinking community of artists who gathered in the desert to display outrageous art and burn something.
So what happens when a virgin Burner goes to Burning Man to have an adventure his late wife wanted him to have?
Well, I discovered that while my impression was accurate, it was far, far too narrow. I encountered babies, children and octogenarians, students and professors, handymen and corporate executives, entrepreneurs, straight people and gender non-conforming people, geeks and mechanics, people of all races and heritages, wild costumes and ordinary attire, and most of all, all kinds of artists.
But the biggest discovery was the Temple I did not know about the Temple, but when I biked out to see what that dot on the horizon was, I was overcome by the enormity and beauty of the David Best’s Temple of Forgiveness.
Adorning the filigreed walls were testaments to lost loved ones, pictures, scrawls of loss, pain, remembrance and celebration of lives lived. When it burned, I knew I had to do something to support it. I vowed to create a book that revealed the diversity of the Burners attending the event and would contribute to future Temples.
The following year I got permission to set up a portrait studio at Center Camp. Nine years and 50,000 images later, Burners was born.
This is not a typical photo book documenting the Burning Man experience. Burners does more than reveal the diversity of people who come to the event—my initial goal. Over the years my portraits evolved as my collaborators and I frequently lowered our “default” world” masks with one another.
Through the conduit of the camera lens and the connections we made in ten to fifteen minutes we revealed emotions ranging from play and joy, through innocence, anger, confidence and uncertainty, to sorrow and serenity. Together we saw one another, shared and unveiled facets of the humanity behind the appearance.
What began as a personal journey of healing blossomed into a loving tribute to my late wife and to the Burning Man community who contributed to my healing.
The majority of the profits from Burners will be donated to fund future Temples at Burning Man.