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High school yearbook for freaks
Burning Man book review
by Adrian Roberts

Burning Man, edited by Brad Wieners, designed by John Plunkett. HardWired Books, 1997.

Yeah, yeah, I know. This book actually came out well over a year ago. But you see, being the jaded cynic that I am, the last thing I wanted to do was take part in the impending commercialization of Burning Man by actually purchasing a copy of this beautiful, $27.95 book. Let's face it, when they start making coffee table books about a really cool, artsy, ostensibly underground, non-commercial event, you know the writing's on the wall for said event's hip quotient.

So needless to say, I had a real negative reaction to the Burning Man book before I even looked at it. I was opposed to its existance purely on principal. "Wired is trying to make money off of Burning Man," I thought, incredulous. And the Burning Man Project actually approved! Travesty!

Many months after the book's release, after all the hubbub had died down, I decided to sneak a peek at it during a Burning Man party. I must admit, I was immediately suckered in. It's gorgeous. Stunning really. Beautifully designed, with huge, full-bleed photos÷both color and black-and-white÷on every page. I immediately bought one.

Flipping through the book, there seems to be a good representative sampling of Black Rock City culture throughout the years: ClichŽd images of naked, painted bodies dancing. That goddamned Java Cow. Art cars. Colorfully-costumed participants. Moody black-and-whites of the Man. The usual pics of naked people caked with mud. It's even presented in somewhat of an order, with all the daytime images slowly leading into photos taken at dusk. Then there's the requisite sixteen pages of editorial pontificating, before heading off into the book's "climax," which mirrors the climax of the event itself with its final eighteen photos all taken during Burn night.

The images, for the most part, are stunning÷although anyone can tell you that it seems damn near impossible to take a bad photo out here on the playa. I especially liked Barbara Traub's very artful, often-posed, black-and-whites. Instead of merely documenting the event, she seems to use the playa as her own photography studio, producing incredibly unique images.

As for the editorial content, it makes for a good, hour-long read. Naturally, everyone tries to explain what Burning Man is, without ever really nailing it down. Such is the nature of the event. Larry Harvey spells it all out in his oral history of Burning Man. Bruce Sterling describes his family's vacation at Burning Man, in his hysterical, and ultimately heartwarming piece, "Variation On a Theme Park (Taking the Kids to Burning Man)" Erik Davis' "Here is Post-Modern Space" is alternately intellectual jabbering and snarky commentary. Hell, he even references Piss Clear in his article÷although not by name÷describing us as an "otherwise lame Burning Man zine." Hey, come on Erik! That was three years ago! What do you think of us now?

But far and away my favorite piece was "Me, I Didn't Burn A Thing," a refreshingly different perspective of Burning Man from Janelle Brown. She tells it like it is, writing: "I'm stuck in a limbo-land of exhaustion: I can't sleep because I've hardly moved all day, and I can't move because I've hardly slept. I lie in the eerie blue shade of our plastic tarpualin in a semi-lucid state, spray bottle in one hand, gin and tonic in the other." That is so it.

While certainly it's a great conversation piece for suckering in friends to go out with you to Burning Man next year, the biggest reason I like the book is because it functions as sort of a high school yearbook for freaks. "Look, there I am on page 11, in the reddish orange wrap!" "There's my friend Ggreg, in a big double spread on pages 72-73!" "And look, on page 111, there's the "Flaming Man" we helped our friend Scott build back in â95!"

Cynicism aside, it really is a gorgeous book÷and I'm not just saying that because my name got printed in a long list near the back. Believe it or not, it really is worth the $27.95.

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