Greeted by eccentric stewards and invited to participate in my own inauguration–I ring a ceremonial bell, lay down in the alkaline dust, then enter the fantastic world of Burning Man for the first time.
After setting up basecamp, I wander onto the vast playa on foot. It's seductive and endless. I gravitate towards the revolving crowds and monolithic art pieces–some of which stand impossibly tall. The frequent and sometimes-violent dust storms prevent me from conversing much. However, a few shots of scotch squash my inhibitions and I begin taking portraits of strangers. One woman engages me in a photographic game of cat and mouse–in what I can only speculate is her version of performance art. We don't exchange any words.
Burning Man is surreal. Even the familiar sight of a newborn baby or marriage ceremony seems wildly out of context. While the frivolous crowds party in the campsites, the soul-searchers seem to wander the playa–on a pilgrimage of sorts. The more deviant activities are confined to the world of tents. Although I stumble across a couple having sex in the open. The conservative seem to enjoy the anonymity of costumes. While those who realize they don't like the experience–must find themselves trapped in a hostile environment of noise, dust, and self-introspection.
Nightfall and the ominous booming of dance music summon new life to the playa. And despite the complete lack of gridded electricity, millions of lights illuminate the landscape as far as the eye can see. It's stunning. Silhouettes, erratic traffic channels, and bon fires provide some sense of scale. However, the art monoliths are the only sedentary form of navigation. In a way that can only be appreciated by the experience, I'm the subject of a 70,000-person experiment. A convergence of the privileged and curious.