Burning man festival
Burning man festival

Burning Man in Pictures: Capturing the Spirit of Nevada Desert

27 Sep 2018 | Updated on: 27 Sep 2022 |By Ellen Millard

Burning Man, the inimitable nine-day art festival in the Nevada desert, as seen through the lens of its official photographer Philip Volkers

“Burning Man is one of the only places on Earth that transgresses commodification; a place where people from across the globe are stripped of social crutches such as mobile phones and gather to push themselves to the limits of survival and expression.”

Unique in its method, the nine-day art festival in the heart of Black Rock City – a temporary metropolis built on the edge of the Nevada Desert – invites 70,000 people to revel in self-expression, without the use of money and without infringing on the environment. No entertainment is booked for the event – you simply turn up and see what happens. The result is spontaneous musical performances, art installations and crazy costumes, all of which are designed, created and performed by the festival’s guests.

Brit Philip Volkers has been Burning Man’s official photographer for the past decade, documenting the unpredictability of this colossal gathering. He shares the best of his snaps here, and in his new book, Dust to Dawn.

Alex on the playa at dawn, 2012

A participant poses on the playa. The Spanish word for beach, playa is also used to describe the dry lake beds in America, such as those found on the Black Rock Desert.

Equatorial Encounter, Matt Evans 2007

Expect the unexpected is the motto to go by at Burning Man, as depicted here with Matt Evans’s Equatorial Encounter, an art installation created for the 2007 edition of the festival.

The Burning Man, 2014

The wooden effigy from which the event takes its name is erected at the start of the event, and positioned so the sun rises behind it. On the Saturday evening, the 100ft structure is set alight as part of an hour-long ritual that includes an impressive firework display. The pyrotechnic performance acts as a reminder to keep the ‘creative fires’ burning.

Lamplighters lighting the avenues at sunset, 2017

The tradition of the Lamplighters began in 1993, seven years after the festival began. A small group of participants placed a series of kerosene lanterns on the ground every evening, creating an illuminated pathway. Ever since, a team of more than 100 participants has lit nearly 1,000 lamps each evening during the nine-day event. By the end of each festival, more than 1,000 of its participants will have helped with the lighting of the lamps. The team wear specific robes and sashes that mark them out from the other guests. Volunteers are encouraged to help each year.