Scott London has beautifully captured Burning Man once again. This year, the behemoth desert based event (which sold out for the first time in 25 years) seemed to me even grander in scale then in years past. There were so many major pieces of art burning that I could barely keep up.[see_also]
In the exclusive interview below, London was kind to answer a few questions about his experience this year at Burning Man and how he captures his incredible shots in such a harsh, dusty environment. Just a small sampling of his diverse portfolio, see many more photographs at ScottLondon.com.
If you are thinking of going to Burning Man next year make sure to check out their Survival Guide, or if you’d like to see another take on photographing the event, see our post on Eric Schwabel’s one man mobile studio.
VN: What originally inspired you to do photography at Burning Man?
London: I had no intention of taking pictures when I first attended Burning Man. I’m a radio and print journalist, but words can only go so far in describing something as visually intoxicating as Burning Man. Photography seemed like a better choice. Unfortunately all I had the first year was a cheap 3-megapixel camera, one that barely survived the heat and dust at that. I came back the following year with better equipment and a determination to record something of the beauty, the creativity, the whimsy, the sexuality and the sheer outrageous good fun of Burning Man.
VN: Have you seen the event become more commercial or has it retained its original spirit?
London: The gathering has certainly changed over the years. It now attracts more than 50,000 people a year which means that it has to be carefully organized and tightly managed. Old-timers complain that there are now too many rules, too much bureaucracy, and too many folks walking around with badges and walkie-talkies. To some extent they’re right. Don’t forget, Burning Man was started by people who wanted to get away from that. They wanted to abandon rules and conventions and see what would happen if they really set their creativity free. It made for a tight-knit community and many brilliant and inspired projects. But the early years were also marked by recklessness, chaos and mayhem. That would never work given the size of the event today. So yes, it’s changed.
VN: Has your approach to photography changed since you first started attending Burning Man?
London: I started out as a photojournalist looking for candid moments. My best shots seemed to come from happening upon something interesting. That’s still true to some extent. But over the years, I’ve adopted a more participatory approach. My best images now come from working with people to create images that can stand on their own. It’s more collaborative, more creative, and a lot more enriching.
VN: What kind of equipment do you use now?
London: I use a pair of Canon DSLRs along with a handful of lenses. Nice equipment, but nothing special. Photographers obsess too much about gear, in my view. At Burning Man, convenience trumps everything. Your gear has to be light so that you can carry it around for hours on end. It has to be rugged so that it can handle a week of intense heat and dust. And it has to be versatile so you can use it in a variety of settings, some of them quite challenging — like hanging out of an ultralight or suspended above a sea of people in a 40-foot boom lift.
VN: What’s the most memorable feedback you’ve received?
London: I’m grateful when people tell me that my images capture the enchantment they’ve experienced at Burning Man. That kind of feedback means a lot because Burning Man is often a transformative experience for people. I’m also happy when people tell me they decided to go to Burning Man the first time after seeing my images. But the most memorable moment, I would say, was when I received an e-mail from a guy who makes world class prints. He said he was so inspired by my photographs that he wanted to make a series of fine art prints as a gift to me. We got to know each other and today he is among my most treasured friends. The gesture embodied so much of what I love about Burning Man — the creativity, the inspiration, the generosity, and the impulse to create a community around the things we love.