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.
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.
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
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.
through the book, there seems to be a good representative sampling of Black
Rock City culture throughout the years: Clichd 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.
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
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.
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!"
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.