Palm Springs Photo Festival 2015

PSPF is a wonderful experience, and if you’ve ever thought of going, you should!  It is a gathering of photographers from all over the country (and the world) for an idyllic week discussing their work, doing portfolio reviews, taking workshops from the finest teachers, testing new gear, and seeing the latest that the photography world has to offer.  The setting is wonderful (Palm Springs before it gets too hot), with the portfolio reviews at the Hyatt and the workshops at the delightful and photogenic Korakia Pensione.  I stayed around the corner at the newly remodeled Hideaway, which has the best pool and lovely mid-century rooms.


This was the tenth year anniversary, and it was rocking!  I did not sign up for the porfolio reviews this year, but opted to take a workshop on creative vision with Keith Carter, a visual poet with the camera, as well as beloved teacher, and sweet southern gentleman.  His work and words are so inspiring.  I’d been admiring his work, and was thrilled to meet him in person and get to spend four days soaking in his wisdom.  The workshop was filled with other established and emerging photographers who were all interesting and inspiring in their own right.  Keith is self taught, and used mostly black and white film and medium format, though during the workshop he shot in digital, and is obviously well versed in both.  His images are dreamy, soulful, and often provocatively symbolic.   One of his words of advice is to look for stripes.  I guess he takes that to heart…


Keith Carter at Indian Canyon, 2015, image by Erica Martin

While we were there we attended evening lectures by a number of iconic photographers, showcasing their latest work and career retrospectives.  One of the evenings was a lecture and slideshow by Mary Ellen Mark, one of my early inspirations and teachers.  I was particularly moved by her series on the plight of caged prostitutes of Mumbai, called Falkland Road.  She worked for ten years to gain the trust of the prostitutes and be able to make images.  I was so grateful in years past for her encouragement of my portraiture, and for her delight in certain of my images that she felt showed life and heart.  I was able to speak with her and thank her for her influence and her lessons in perseverance.  Mary Ellen showed work from her upcoming book, which will be a continuation of the long time documentation of the life of Tiny, a one-time street urchin in Seattle, through relationships and motherhood, and the vicissitudes of a hard life.  Mary Ellen Mark passed away at the end of May.  She will be missed by many.

FRANCE. Provence-Alpes-CÙte d'Azur. Arles. 1976. Ernst HAAS and Mary Ellen MARK.

FRANCE. Provence-Alpes-CÙte d’Azur. Arles. 1976.  Mary Ellen MARK, by photographer Rene Burri.

We were also treated to trying out some new technology, including the Pentax 645z (see my review in a previous post), the Canon Pro-1 Printer, and the new Epson P800 Printer.  I fell in love with the Pentax 645z, a 51 mp medium format camera with weatherproofing, that I shot with for a couple of days.  It revolutionizes medium format digital by designing it for both field work as well as studio.   You could also borrow any Canon gear you wanted for the day, and we got a sneak peek at the just released Canon 50 mp 5Ds.

Kudos to festival director Jeff Dunas for creating on ongoing tradition that is a place for photographers to meet, make connections, and recharge with what they love about their craft.  Like Jeff, the festival is both laid back, and really engaging.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself, had a blissful week photographing, meeting old friends and making new ones, and soaking up sun, craft, and creativity.


Izumi Tanaka and Erica Martin, PSPF 2015


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Erica featured photographer on

I was honored to be featured on one of my favorite photography websites, Lenscratch, which champions fine art photographers from around the world.  Started by beloved teacher and photographer Aline Smithson (, Lenscratch is renowned for finding interesting emerging talent, as well as insightful commentary on the photography fine art world today, interviews with the artists, and curated digital exhibitions.  Lenscratch is considered one of the ten photography related blogs one should be reading (by Source Review,, Rangefinder and InStyle Magazine).  The Lenscratch piece showed some of my series Black Rock City, images from my treks to Burning Man.  Many thanks to Aline and Lenscratch for your encouragement and generosity in the photography community.


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The Pentax 645z: is this my digital Dream Come True?

I thought it might be useful to hear about my experience with this game changing medium format camera, since most of the reviews I read were by men.  While I‘m not a techie and I don’t generally care about the latest gadgets, I do love good tools that are solidly built, feel good in the hands, and inspire me creatively.  I was recently at the Palm Springs Photo Festival, and thanks to the Ricoh-Pentax folks, had the opportunity to shoot for a couple of days with a Pentax 645z medium format camera.  Touted as an “impossible dream come true,” the designers earnestly claim “We hear your every desire…We expect that pictures nobody has ever seen can be taken…Can shoot superb pictures with a very ordinary use.”  This poetry continues on the inside of the box, which charmingly greets you with the statement “Our Promise – Wish to be a companion to form important moments in your life.  Always with you.”  How sweet!  So is this really my dream camera come to life?


How does it feel to hold and use?  One thing I look for in a camera is that feels like an extension of my arm.  One that I can use and carry comfortably and intuitively.  When I first picked up the camera, I was a bit intimidated, and thought whoa this thing is a beast!  Coming from a 35 mm DSLR, the 645 takes a moment to get used to.  But after shooting with it for a while, it felt right – nicely balanced, with a well-shaped grip, and everything where it should be.  As with all things Pentax, the camera and lenses reflect a design principle of form equals function.  It is sleek and lovely yet utilitarian, it is simple to use, and it obviously had input from real photographers in the design.  You’d think that everyone would design cameras for the needs of actual photographers, but some do it better than others, and this camera is a stand out.  The necessary controls and functions are easy to access, so you don’t get lost in the menus.  I like manual everything, but I know that menus are necessary these days, and the ones on the 645z are simple and make sense.   It also has this lovely patterned matte black finish, with what look like miniature water droplets on it, and a nice quality rubber grip.


In terms of portability, I hiked around a horse ranch one day, and up and down Indian Canyon the next, in 100 F temperatures, and didn’t feel too weighed down carrying the camera over my shoulder.  I took it to a wedding, which was down a steep hillside to the beach.  I carried it around all afternoon and evening, shooting candids.  I am rather petite, and it‘s tough for me to lug a lot of gear, but in practice I found that once you add a lens, the 645z with a lens isn’t much heavier than my Canon 5DIII.  It’s quite a bit heavier than my Fuji EX-2, which I can wear like an accessory, but then the Fuji doesn’t have near the image quality.  And it’s lighter than a Canon 1D with a lens.  Bottom line: the Pentax won’t fit in your pocket, but it’s surprisingly portable.  I found it pretty comfortable to shoot hand-held, and I have small hands.  It is possible to carry it with you, as long as you aren’t backpacking.  I was able to fit the camera and lens, as well as some personal accessories, into my small Kelly Moore B-Hobo camera bag (that looks just like a purse).  Very stealthy.


The viewfinder is big, bright, and nice!  I can actually see to focus, and at near full coverage, I can see what I’m including in the frame.  I tend to be what Amy Arbus calls a “bottom cropper” meaning that I include the top of people’s heads but sometimes at the expense of their feet, so I need to see where my edges are.

The tilted LCD monitor is something I didn’t know I’d love until I used it. You can enlarge for focusing in live view, and can shoot from odd angles.  I don’t have one on any of my other cameras, and never missed it before, but found that this one is surprisingly useful.

The sensor is really amazing.  When I opened my first files, I kept repeating “Holy ____, holy ____, holy ____!”  The images are luscious, with a look that is something different from 35 mm cameras.


The aspect ratio is something I particularly love.  The 4:3 reminds me of 4×5 film.  This is of course a matter of taste, but it’s how I see, and how I frame in my mind.  I’m forever cropping and content-aware filling 35mm images to get this subconsciously optimal ratio.  The 645z does it for me right in camera, and gives me effortlessly pleasing framing.

ISO 204800!  No, that is not a typo.  The image quality falls off if pushed to that extreme, but the images look pretty darned fantastic at 6,400.

The dynamic range is a what really astonished me.  A couple of times, messing with the controls, and shooting mostly manual, I shot images that were way too dark.  I thought they were destined for the trash, but on a whim, opened a few in Camera Raw, and increased the exposure dramatically.  Presto there they were – close to perfect.  No weird color aberrations, very little discernible noise, no noticeable loss of detail!  What??  Who needs the zone system?  Simply make sure you don’t clip the highlights, and you’re good.  You can bring back the shadows practically from the dead (even from stuff too dark to see with one’s eye in the original file).  I’ve read estimates of at least a 10 stop range in available exposure, possibly up to 14.  What this forgivingly wide exposure latitude means for me in practice is one less thing to worry about, so that I can focus on the moment.


Color rendition is superb.  Right out of the camera the color is beautiful, rich and haunting.  The Ricoh engineers describe designing “colors with constraints,” and “color reproduction based on memory of colors instead of uninspiring fidelity.”  I’m not exactly sure what those charming phrases mean, but if they mean gorgeous rich-yet-subtle colors, they’ve done it!

File size – these are big honkers.  Two 32 SD cards full crashed my laptop.  They are 14 bit, and take a minute to render, but you’ll forget the wait when you see what comes up!  It’s like darkroom days, and when I would do a little happy dance upon seeing the image for the first time.

Bonus Points for being weather-proofed!  I think this might be a first in MF cameras? That’s good for me, because I’m hard on my equipment.  I’ve been known to take my camera to places like Burning Man, where fine caustic dust is blowing most of the time.  It’s like being shaken in a big bag of flour.  For a week.  This camera can likely handle it. There are videos of people pouring water on it.  I’m not about to try that, but feel free.  Let me know how that works out.

There is another new to me shooting mode which is a combination aperture and shutter speed priority, called TAV, where you set both and the camera sets the ISO depending on the lighting conditions.   This strikes me as very useful for street or on the go portrait shoots, where I am moving and the light is changing constantly.  The Pentax can handle variable ISOs because the dynamic range is so broad, and because ISOs up to 6400 are really low noise.  You can also limit the range of ISO in the menu.


I printed a few images 13×19 and 17×22 , and they were stunning.  As the Pentax site says, print large so that you can “find the subtlety with your eyes.”


I do have a few quibbles.

On the Pentax, there are two dedicated buttons just behind the trigger button for EV and ISO.  You have to push down on the EV or ISO button (near the trigger), and simultaneously turn the rear wheel, and while the adjustment is visible in the viewfinder, I find that I have to take my eye from the viewfinder find the buttons.  In my Canon, I can just press the shutter button down halfway, while adjusting the wheel in the back one-handed without taking my eyes from the viewfinder.  At least the Pentax has dedicated exterior buttons for these two necessary adjustments, something many cameras make you search for by cycling through the menus.

As others have noted, there doesn’t appear to be a high-speed sync.  While I use this rarely, it is a lovely option to have for outdoor portraits using flash.  I plan to see if this can dealt with by using a neutral density filter and a low ISO (so that you can use a wider aperture and thus take advantage of the camera’s delicious bokeh).  [To the techies out there – perhaps this is something that can be rectified in a firmware update?]

The auto-focus hunts in low light or low contrast situations, but then I am comparing it to my Canon DSLR AF, which is probably not fair.  For a medium format camera, the AF is pretty great, and when it hits it is very accurate.  I’m usually focusing on my subject’s eyes, and using shallow depth of field, so I need accuracy.  Also, manual focus works great, since the optical viewfinder is big and bright, as does AF in the live view mode (where you can zoom way in).

The only options for timer are 2 and 12 seconds.  Maybe someone more technically adept can tell me how to delay the shutter release for a longer period of time?  One solution of course is to get a remote trigger.  Hopefully there is one that is radio controlled.

The rear screen seems to give the image a flat look as well as a greenish tint in playback mode.  I keep thinking the pictures are turning out badly when I review them in the field. Viewed on a calibrated monitor, however, the colors are glorious.  Maybe my viewing screen needs adjusting somehow, but I found this to be the case in both the loaner camera and the one that is now mine.

As a minor point, there’s some unnecessary stuff on the camera cluttering up the menus.  Oddly, the Pentax folks state that they want you to be able to create images “without need for a personal computer,” and so put phone app and point and shoot type filters and other jpeg features directly into the camera.  I’m not a fan of this sort of complication, and feel that anyone who is drawn to this camera is likely shooting in RAW and editing their images on a computer, rather than exporting them to social media directly from the camera.

The manual is pretty darn difficult to understand.  While charmingly poetic phrases are nice on the box and website, I do not want a manual written in haiku.  Thankfully the camera is pretty self-explanatory, at least for the simple stuff.  And at least there is a useful index.

And finally…the Price.  As the Ricoh folks state, it’s “on sale at the barely reasonable price of…”  I’ve always always wanted to shoot medium format digital, but with most cameras at the price of a new car, it felt out of my range.  While this camera ain’t exactly cheap, one could at least conceivably save up for it.  By way of comparison, it’s roughly a third the price of competing MF cameras, containing the same large CMOS sensor, or conversely, about twice as much as the upcoming 51 mp Canon 5D (which has the same megapixel count, but a smaller sensor).  It is also designed so that it can use older lenses, which could save you a bit.   I’m saving my pennies for the very expensive but remarkable 90/2.8.


In conclusion, after using the Pentax 645z for a couple of days, I knew I had to have one. This camera is seriously magical.  The new sensor is big, but the magic is more than that.  It sees just exactly the way I see, it feels good to use, it is intuitively designed, it’s sturdy, and the image quality is jaw dropping.  The medium format means that the bokeh is so lovely it makes me cry.  For me, it is a fantasy come true, a tool full of possibilities, and finally the digital camera I’ve been waiting for.  Pinch me I must be dreaming!

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What is Burning Man?

“So, what is Burning Man?” people often ask me, since I’ve been a few times.  “Isn’t it that wild rave thing in the desert?  Where they burn something?”  What is it that compelled over 50,000 people last year to travel from all over the world to one of the more inhospitable parts of Nevada in the hottest part of summer?  Should you go?  If it sounds at all interesting to you, hell yes!  At least once, before it’s too late.  Although if it sounds dusty, hot, and miserable, by all means stay home by the pool, and leave it for the rest of us.  It’s getting a little crowded these days. _MG_0173TempleVisitors6 I was lucky enough last time I went to have met Larry Harvey, one of the main forces behind Burning Man.  He said that the one week a year event is not a rave, it’s more of a retreat.  Communications Director Andie Grace elaborated, stating that, “Burning Man is a state of being that exists all the time.”  In the years I have gone, I can vouch for feeling that I had been privileged to attend something like an institution of higher education, on par with the mind opening experiences of college, or reading about the outer edges of physics (wow, time actually speeds up around large stars?). The first thing to know is that Burning Man functions along ten principles, outlined on their website,  These are radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy.   Harvey said that they started out with this set of values, and then immediately applied them.  The ten principles are “descriptive, not prescriptive, not an ideology, but a way of life.”  They describe the phenomena that has occurred over time in an empirical way.  The exponential growth of the event “clarified these principles, and clarified their intentions”.  Harvey said that they started out as “a little group, with an incipient ethos,” and have become increasingly aware of who they are. Well, so what are they?  First of all, the namesake event in the desert is not a festival, with acts presented by the festival organizers.  It is actually a city, the fourth largest in the State of Nevada, with all sorts of interesting citizens doing all sorts of interesting, creative, and sometimes outrageous things.  So if you go, you are not the audience, you are a participant.  This is an all ages event.  All ages, all sizes, shapes, colors, and creeds.  Everyone is welcome, and there is definitely something for everyone.  “We welcome the stranger” says the website.  Radical inclusion and radical freedom of expression showcase some of what is best about living in America today.  Much of what I saw here was a celebration of creativity, of beauty, of collaborative efforts to build something delightful.  Some of it could get you arrested or killed in other countries, or other times.  Here is one place and time on earth where you will definitely not get stoned or lynched for being gay, for being an artist and expressing yourself, for wearing purple, or for being in love. _MG_0153BlueMan Another thing you should probably know is that, contrary to popular opinion, however, drugs and public sex are just as illegal as anywhere else in Nevada.  Be forewarned that, although the location is in the Wild West, Burning Man organizers don’t encourage drugs or sex.  Although they don’t actively discourage it either.  As Harvey put it, “If you are focused on transgression and licentiousness, who are you hanging around with?  Perhaps you are focused on too narrow a bandwidth.” The Jack Rabbit Speaks (JRS) in a recent missive said that “In fact, everyBODY at Burning Man IS art, including YOU … that’s part of what makes our city so special: everywhere you go, you’re neck-deep in of one of the most fantastic (and fantastical) art experiences ever conceived. And the best part? A lot of it involves FIRE.  EVERYBODY’S art is welcome at Burning Man, including YOURS.”  There are far too many amazing art projects to describe here, but one high point was Peter Hudson’s Zoetrope of Charon rowing across the River Styx.  At night it was a spectacular interactive trompe l’oeil, looking like this glowing skeleton was living and rowing.  On another day, 50 “slaves” dragged a gigantic 50 foot high 28 ton Trojan Horse out to the playa to be burned with flaming arrows.  As Harvey said, “we create a vessel, and see what magic fills it” adding, “Scratch any engineer, and you find an incipient artist. For art to be any good, it has to confront the unknown. It has to forgo expectations. A dialog with the unknown leads to unanticipated meanings.” Dream it, bring it, build it, do it! _MG_0212GreenManinFrontofMan_MG_0161TrafficControllerBRCAirport Speaking of involving fire, there are going to be close to a hundred official fire projects this year, and probably uncountable unofficial things on fire, unexpected explosions, stuff randomly shooting propane tongues of flame, people hula hooping while on fire, people parasailing into the city on fire, and just about anything you can imagine, while on fire.  If you like all things fire, then this is the place for you. _MG_0049OctopusCar1 For all the wild art, fire, costumes, and general sensory overload, BRC does have a few rules.  Like no guns, dogs, camels, or lasers, and don’t vandalize the artwork (the latter being likely to get you staked out next to anthill).  There are lots of law enforcement there, from the Bureau of Land Management officer (on whose land Black Rock City sits), to local county sheriffs.  In addition, there are all kinds of rules like you can’t take video without a permit, you can’t serve food without a permit, and a surprising amount of other things that have become regulated.  The Shark Car was banned for running over bicycles parked in its way and something about open containers of alcohol (don’t drink and drive there with an open container or you’ll get a ticket).  A lot of old timers grumble about the pervasive control these days, and reminisce fondly about things like the Drive-by Shooting Range, the Neck Breaker (a giant blow-up structure that people do flips off of, at the risk of their cervical spine), or the Slice-‘em-Dice-‘em Waterslide, a wood and metal structure which lands you in a tub of water, with a few extra scars, courtesy of Loadie Camp.   What is Burning Man, folks at the Skinny Kitty Bar might say, without a few health risks?   After all, the ticket does explicitly state that you might die there.  This year, I vow, I will spend more time exploring the camps, big and small. Did I mention that all the bars are free?  Burning Man is a utopian experiment in economics.  It is not capitalism, it is definitely not socialism, nor is it a barter economy, as commonly believed by those who haven’t attended.   It’s been called a gifting economy, something new, a whole new category, and we’re all trying to figure out what it is.   One thing I can attest to is that it is very powerful to experience no advertising, no commercialism of any kind, in fact no commerce for a week.  Other than coffee drinks, lemonade, and bags of ice, nothing is bought or sold.  The gifting economy that exists for a week has a profound impact on the participants, and most folks come away having experienced incredible openness and generosity.  My friends have sometimes asked “What do you bring to barter?”  Nothing.  You bring enough for your self and then some, and somehow it all works out.  Don’t have enough water?  A neighbor is sure to have brought plenty.  Bike broke?  Free bike fix camps are scattered throughout the city.  Generator busted?  Jet Fuel from Gigsville saddled up his handwelded bike contraption, and got ours running again.  Crunchy told me a story of a woman who, while on her way to Burning Man, pulled over to the side of the road for a moment and got out of the car to stretch her legs.  A semitruck, whose driver had fallen asleep, plowed through her car, totaling it and all her gear.  She was miraculously unharmed, but she had nothing to camp with for the week.  Word got back to the folks at Black Rock City, and when she arrived, there was a tent set up and sleeping bag, a cooler full of food and water, and even a mint on her pillow.   For a total stranger.  That’s the kind of community it is.   It is part of the Burning Man ethos to bring what you need, bring some for others, and share generously. When you arrive at Burning Man, one of the first things you are aware of is that there is music everywhere, of all sorts, not just thumpa thumpa, although that is the background beat.  I listened to an amazing violinist in Center Camp one afternoon, who was met with a standing ovation.  The stage at Center Camp is for acoustic performances. _MG_0035ViolinistDelightingCenterCampAudience At Center Camp there is also spoken word, and incredible dance and acrobatics.   Of course, there is also world class thumpa thumpa, with DJs coming from all corners of the world to perform at huge club camps with names like Opulent Temple and Disorient.  I also heard a solo piano concerto in the middle of the deep playa, and a banjo and bass show at Front Porch Camp, as well as guitar singer songwriters, percussion circles, jazz singers, and a strolling accordion player.  A man with a guitar on a bike stopped to listen to the accordion player, and they started in to a danceable blues number, and soon folks were dancing in the middle of the street.  A couple of dancers were doing the tango in Center Camp, and a banjo player started playing and an impromptu swing dance broke out.  At night, giant art cars float by booming dubstep, sixties rock, and disco.  Dancers cavort atop large vessels shaped like ships sailing the playa, or huge mastadon bones, or giant majestic dragons, serving free drinks for anyone who brings their own cup.  The scale of the thing is overwhelming at first, and it is easy to get lost.  Where am I?  Who am I?  Who do I want to be and what do I want to do today?  What day is it?  Shall I just wander, get lost, and see what happens? _MG_0178MarchingBand _MG_0063FourSeasons _MG_0214SwordFight5 On my trip to the portapotty one afternoon, there were a bunch of people dressed in formal attire.  They rolled a red carpet up to the door of one of the occupied potties.  The person inside emerged, blinking, to a red carpet, and was given a trophy, just like at the Oscars, and asked to make a speech.  Hilariously brilliant.  On another corner, two men on stilts were holding up a large banner on poles that said simply, “FINISH”.  As you walked or biked under it, they cheered and congratulated you, and told you “You won!”.  People immediately got into the act, slow motion running for the finish, leaping for joy, jumping up and down yelling “I won!  I won!”  Further on down the street, on this hot dusty afternoon, there was a handsome young man handing out slices of cold delicious watermelon.  It was wonderfully sweet and juicy, and he even took the rinds for you after.  Thank you watermelon man.  Then there was the California Library, where you NEVER have to return the books.   Whatever you can imagine or create, day or night, here is your blank slate and ready audience. _MG_0054BillionBunnyMarch3 Burning Man does no advertising, and the fact that people put enormous effort and resources into coming to the playa is solely by word of mouth.  Once in the 1990s, they were worried that not enough people would come.  They took out some ads in local newspapers, which didn’t say anything.  The ad was just the Burning Man symbol “)’( “  Harvey said it was a marketing flop.  As Harvey said, “We don’t have a marketing structure, we have a messaging structure.  Culture reproducing itself is far more powerful than any marketing.”  And clearly something worked.  This last year, attendees numbered approximately 53,000 and the event sold out, to much consternation, as many old timers were left scrambling for tickets.  This year, the numbers may top 60,000, with the event selling out once again.  But the number of international virgins have skyrocketed as people from all over the planet converge on Black Rock City.  My friend and I were lucky enough to camp in a central location, with some amazing folks, journalists from around the world.   We are surrounded by people from Singapore, Thailand, Ireland, and a group from Germany dressed all in white, one of whom said that on their first trip here they felt more at home than in their own country. _MG_0028BurnersfromJapan There is an enormous amount of spirituality and faith here.  Harvey himself is a Darwinian, but admits you can’t live your life solely by scientific principles.  The Temple brings people together from all over the world of all creeds, and almost everyone cries, putting up photographs of lost loved ones, writing poems, praying.  In years past, the amazing temples have been designed and built by architect David Best and teams of volunteers.  He took a break, and last year a team comprised of folks from Reno, Ireland, and Australia took over, creating the gorgeous Temple of Transition.   I rode out to it one late afternoon, to place a photograph of my brother Kevin, who committed suicide, on the wall.   I didn’t know how I’d feel when I got there, but just wanted a place to go with his story.   At the temple, the emotional charge was overwhelming.  I cried as I put up his picture, one of him smiling and playing the bongo drums on a long ago evening on the beach in Baja.  At the temple this beautiful music played, computer programmed percussive gongs and bells that circled the walls, called the “Gamelatron“.  It was some of the most moving music I have ever heard, particularly in that context.  People of every description and creed bowed their heads, and prayed to whatever moved them.   The temple filled with shrines, mememtos, prayers, artwork, and people wrote letters on the walls.   One afternoon a great cheer went up as a man proposed to his girlfriend.  She said yes.   Out in front as the sun was setting, William Close played gorgeous music on the Earth Harp. _MG_0209TempleBurnDusk Burning Man is experiencing the sea change that exponential growth and popularity bring.  As Marion described it, “We are working to have this transformative experience.  Others want affiliation with us, so we look to how they do business.  We may find ways that aren’t being done.”  The Burning Man organization functions along consensus with information is circulated in a convective way.  People are trained to think and express themselves (preferably, Marion notes, before work has begun).  Still there is a hierarchy, and people emerge naturally as leaders.  At one point, some of the larger theme camps came to the organization, and requested funding.  A proposal was drawn up, and was nearly completed.  Harvey said no.  It would have made the theme camps dependant on and ultimately resentful of the organization.  Also, it would have taken away their ability to generate community resources.  And he was right.   So, very little of what you see on the playa has been funded other than certain art projects.  The majority of what is there comes from what the participants generate on their own. Harvey identifies himself as a Democrat, and says his parents were dustbowlers, driven from Nebraska by the Depression.  After an illness, he has been contemplating his mortality, and with that, the thorny subject of legacy.  What will exceed his lifetime?  What will last for a hundred years?  And that in turn reconnects him to the present, makes the moment more meaningful.  His only regret is that he didn’t start sooner, but then muses that if he’d been younger, he might not have made the choices he did.  Harvey worked as a landscaper, and likened creating Black Rock City as a bit like landscaping, and then waiting to see what sort of volunteers sprout along the beds created.  And now, the diaspora around the world is occurring, with the Burning Man Regionals sprouting up all over.  There is a burn in Africa, in Australia, in Europe, in Japan. As Burning Man has gone viral, what does it mean to the people who flock here to build a city?  People come because they’ve heard about the amazing art, or music, or possibly the sex and drugs, but they are challenged to take up a more engaged way of life.  What is it you care about?  What do you want to become?   People are challenged to participate.  What can you do to be enjoyed by others?  What is your form of self expression and how do you write that large?  What does the Man mean?  Well, as Harvey said, that is up to you.  What do you make of it? _MG_0090ExodusPlayaRV Back in Los Angeles, trying to absorb all I’d seen, I was driving along and saw a small sticker on the back of the car in front of me.  It read “Black Rock Solar – Free the Sun”, with a stylized image of the suns rays rising over a mountain range that looked like sunrise on the playa.  A fellow burner!  Just then, another car cut off the person with the Black Rock Solar sticker.  Rather than honking or yelling, I saw the driver of the car with the sticker smile at the other driver and calmly wave them through.  And I smiled, feeling that Burning Man lives on in the default world.

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