Burning Man 2012 {My personal experiences}


Of all the things in life we can’t control, there’s one thing for sure we can control: our attitude. We can choose a good attitude. Or a bad attitude. It’s 100% up to us. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing as cathartic as a good rant.

While I’m not great at math, I do know: Event + Attitude = Outcome.

Here’s proof:

What a difference two years can make! The above images are not a before & after that Photoshop can fake. This is life; illustrated by the power of attitude. Specifics aside, I’ll say it takes two people to make a relationship work and one person to break it apart. In 2010, I fell on the short end of the stick. It was the hardest thing I’ve been through. I often share with my peers and my clients my mother’s wisdom, “You plan for a marriage, not a wedding.” And as a wedding photographer, it was EFFIN’ brutal, especially while witnessing other couples pledge their vows weekend after weekend.

In 2010 I went to Burning Man and it re-enforced my perspectives. And I owe it to many early experiences in life of self-induced physical hardship. Climbing Mt. Rainer as a teenager. High school paper routes at 5:30am in 40-degree Seattle rain. Rowing four-years in college suffering through 5:45am morning crew practice. If you are a parent, you know the pain times three. Perhaps thick skin continues to be my super power (grown by hours of art critiques in college studios). And I’m happier than ever. And the Burning Man experience has made me stronger than ever.

That which does not kill us only makes us stronger.

True. Burning Man stretches and strengthens you emotionally and physically.

Burning Man is all about attitude. You choose to live in one of the harshest desert survival conditions on Earth. 110+ degree heat under intense sun, cold nights. No electricity or running water other than what you bring (or share). You literally have to bring your own shade, food, water, batteries, fun, to thrive. Dust storms may leave you with playa cough for weeks. And the price of admission at the gate: $350, if you are lucky. That doesn’t include travel expenses, gear, food, and opportunity cost from being so close to Labor Day weekend… one of the hottest times of the year to get married. If you choose to wear flip flops at Burning Man, after five days the alkaline dust will leave your feet cracked, bloodied. You won’t be able to walk the same. Yet, you’ll never return the same person after you leave. After all, Burning Man is a place where money means nothing, no one cares about status, and you can be anyone you want to be, and you never know who you might meet.

I chose to be me, a.k.a. Scout. I wore my actual Boy Scout uniform, which still fits. My parents have sewn my patches on over the years when I was a kid. And I live up to my oath. And I wear my grandfather’s hat. Proudly, a fellow camp-mate painted on pride stripes. And a gift of merit, I thank the Southern Ute tribe for my beaded neckerchief bolo I was given the day I was laid-off from an awesome corporate gig while teaching an ArcGIS workshop on tribal lands… but that is a different story.

“Can I help you fix your bike? Carry your ice? Help set up your tent? Take your picture?”, you’d often hear me ask these questions during my five days spent on the playa in 2012. I went as a participant, not an observer; willing to help others in need. And to document families at Burning Man of all different types. And re-connect with my fellow camp friends that mean so much to me.

I’m excited to share a few of my favorite images: Thanks to Becker to grabbing this shot of me happy at the Black Rock Roller Disco:wpid-burning-man-2012-photos-04-2012-12-4-01-30.jpg
Burning Man will make or break a relationship. The experience offers temptation, but also opportunities to stay true to yourself and strengthen relationships.
wpid-burning-man-2012-photos-05-2012-12-4-01-30.jpgSeconds later, I turn and see a 150 others looking on:


Hand-built in college, my Klein mountain bike endured it’s second trip to the Black Rock Desert to help lug my photography gear for a personal project.wpid-burning-man-2012-photos-07-2012-12-4-01-30.jpg

With the stealthy assistance of playa friends, we were able to secure a spot on coveted playa grounds: steps from Center Camp and the Esplande. It was a team effort to set-up camp in the dark on Sunday night, but well worth the effort. Becker, Nick, and Tony did a huge job on coordinating and executing our camp design.
Our camp mates were awesome, bringing gifts of photography, music, and Bloody Mary’s to indulge in a hot summer morning:
There’s no shade at Burning Man unless you bring it. A trio of large tents kept our camp cool, allowing others to join in. My tent contrasted with the clothes dryer, upper right.
Sometimes, little gifts would just show up at our camp:
A typical mid-afternoon day:
Our shade attracted all sorts of creatives, including this acapella group that surprised our camp with an amazing performance on our home turf:
Homegrown music remains one of my favorite times during downtime at camp. I loved listening to Nick Adams and album company owner Tony Bisson perform:
Lots of creative talent came together to help make our camp a success, including generators by the Canadian clan, Scott McCall’s chief engineering efforts for the grand stage, drinks by Lynanne, Chelle, and Signe, happiness therapy by Andrew, John Mireles being himself,  fashion modeling by Ashley: wpid-burning-man-2012-pictures-1-2012-12-4-01-30.jpgwpid-burning-man-2012-pictures-3-2012-12-4-01-30.jpg
Becker always brings his A-game when it comes to wit, costumes, gumption, and a craving for bacon bacon bacon.
The girls that added panache to our camp:
Paul Hurschmann brought tons of positive energy on a visit to our camp. Thanks, Paul!
wpid-burning-man-2012-pictures-4-2012-12-4-01-30.jpg Our camp, Freaks:
Each evening, we all would ride our bikes out into the playa, dressed up with costumes, neon-decor, and a fun-attitude… one of my favorite pasttimes on the playa.
Biking is the best way to get around, even in large groups:
Seems like everywhere you turn there’s another art car with a fire-breathing dragon… kind of the stuff kid dreams are made of and allows for great photo ops of friends:
Our camp went to pain-staking efforts to ensure we saw what this camp had to offer:
Any group bike ride usually ended by waiting for someone at the port-a-potty:
The art on the playa gets better and better each year, both moving and still.
The temple remains one of my favorite places to photograph, especially with the emotion of what it represents.
wpid-burning-man-2012-photos-28-2012-12-4-01-30.jpgwpid-burning-man-2012-photos-29-2012-12-4-01-30.jpg And this year’s camp photo:

More Burning Man posts you might dig :
Kids & Families at Burning Man {and camera technicals}
Photography tips for Burning Man
Personal Project: Burning Man Couples in Love Photos
A Wedding at Burning Man

37 Responses to “Burning Man 2012 {My personal experiences}”

  1. Paul Hurschmann — December 4, 2012 @ 5:44 am (#)


    Thanks for another awesome pic! I’m glad I made the cut. I’m sure you’ve got more amazing pics – would love to see more if/when you find the time.
    I wish I had spent a little more time with your camp & campmates but it was great what little bit we shared. I look forward to next year, or whenever you make it back again!
    Peace and Love my brother!

  2. Tony Bisson — December 4, 2012 @ 9:39 am (#)

    Nice reliving that week again through your photographs.

  3. Jacob Schur — December 4, 2012 @ 9:54 am (#)

    I love this set! Such a unique event and perspective!

  4. Krista — December 4, 2012 @ 11:01 am (#)

    Great pics RJ, you capture moments so beautifully.

  5. Mathieu Ryan — December 5, 2012 @ 2:58 am (#)

    RJ, seeing the change in you over the past two years, your passion, your drive, your happiness has been a constant inspiration. Thank you for sharing these thoughts and photo series bro!

  6. Chris Fawkes — December 7, 2012 @ 2:37 am (#)

    Really inspiring work here R.J. The lighting is amazing.

  7. Fiona — December 7, 2012 @ 12:58 pm (#)

    Amazing images RJ! It seems like an amazing time and worth so much more than the cost getting there.

  8. Roman — December 8, 2012 @ 2:49 am (#)

    Привет! Очень нравятся ваши фотографии. I am dont speak inglish. :=) Живу в Москве. Читаю ваш блог. Спасибо за интересные посты.

  9. Roman — December 8, 2012 @ 2:50 am (#)

    Если будете в Москве – приходите в гости!

  10. That Guy — December 10, 2012 @ 4:27 pm (#)

    Was a great year, it was a bummer how uninspired the temple was this year, look ma, I can use a laser cutter… Still an amazing time tho.

  11. mandy — December 10, 2012 @ 4:27 pm (#)

    I have been DYING for light up wings.

    do you know anything about where that man got those bat wings from?

    thank you


  12. Rosemary Rideout — December 10, 2012 @ 4:29 pm (#)

    Your camp mates are a great list of who’s who in the wedding tog business. Thanks for sharing your story. Keep growing.

  13. ara — December 10, 2012 @ 4:39 pm (#)

    I really enjoy photography. Your photos are incredible ! and so are your stories. It really made me feel like I was there again. I went to my first ever burn in 2010 and it has changed me ever since. Your post brought back some wonderful memories from my burn. Thank you.
    Sending hugs and love.
    ~stay dusty in your heart.

  14. NomadNacho — December 10, 2012 @ 4:40 pm (#)

    Amazing pics and I love the way you describe your experience. 2012 was my second burn and I share the way you feel about how BM changes your perspective about lots of things. Love the sets are there more posted somewhere?

  15. Kaybear — December 10, 2012 @ 4:43 pm (#)

    I’ve been looking forward to going to burning man for about 6 years now and I really do hope that I can finally make it this coming year(2013). Reading about your experience and seeing your beautiful photo’s only fuels my desire to grow.

  16. terrin haley — December 10, 2012 @ 4:47 pm (#)

    i think these are the most evocative and exciting photos i have seen of BM. thanks.

  17. Filip — December 10, 2012 @ 4:49 pm (#)


  18. Sweet Cheeks — December 10, 2012 @ 5:18 pm (#)

    God Dammit, RJ, this make me so excited for you to come shoot OUR wedding! Excellent shots, wonderful attitude, and gorgeous representation. Obvious it is all a true labor of love.
    Thank you for sharing!

  19. Warner Gielen — December 11, 2012 @ 1:18 am (#)

    Never made it to burning-man still a dream for me !
    very nice pictures i can feel the love from the people .
    greetings fom the Netherlands!

  20. Paul Hurschmann — December 11, 2012 @ 1:55 pm (#)

    That Guy! Wpw, you really live up to your name – as in, there’s always “that guy” who finds the negative in everything!

    Maybe you could look at the temple, rather than the pieces of wood that created it. Perhaps you could FEEL something with your SOUL that the rest of us feel at the temple.

    And, perhaps you could recognize and appreciate some amazing photography by my friend RJ instead of ragging on the minutiae!!!

  21. Marta V. — December 11, 2012 @ 10:28 pm (#)

    This images are simply amazing. You can really feel the energy. Well done!

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  23. Alain Nasnas — December 14, 2012 @ 3:12 pm (#)

    Woaw, thank you for taking such true and beautiful pictures. These are the first pictures that are close to express the privilege of being there. Namaste.

  24. Brooke — December 16, 2012 @ 2:42 am (#)

    What an amazing experience!

  25. Iggy — December 18, 2012 @ 7:34 pm (#)

    Wow RJ- Thank you for sharing your amazing pictures, they bring back so many memories and emotions! Amazing images – thank you – one more time.

  26. Tumbleweed — December 18, 2012 @ 11:54 pm (#)

    Fuckin’ awesome! Beautiful pics and a wonderful story! “There’s no shade at Burning Man unless you bring it”. That sums it up so beautifully; Burning Man is nothing unless you bring it…attitude, love, feelings, food and friendship…

  27. MayFly — December 19, 2012 @ 6:23 am (#)

    Scout, This year I scribbled a goodbye on the Temple wall to a marriage of 9 years. Thanks for sharing your story and for the photos which made me smile.

  28. JC — December 20, 2012 @ 12:30 am (#)


  29. Alex Oleynikov — December 20, 2012 @ 11:38 am (#)

    RJ, thanks for an amazing flashback right into the Burning Man reality. This brings back great memories and the feeling of freedom and happiness. Sorry we didn’t connect while at Burning Man, I hope to see you there next year.

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  31. Scott "Tiptoe" Neuenswander — March 22, 2013 @ 5:17 pm (#)

    Thank you so verrry much for the photos that magically transported me home!!! You’ve drawn tears of joy from me……Your work is outstanding, I hope to see more of it in the future.
    Burn Brightly R.J.,

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