If you look at the history or say the arc of Burning Man you will find some similarity to the arc of Photography and my business in particular. In and around 1990 I began to have employees asking for extended time off around the Labor Day weekend. These were not mere requests, they were DEMANDS. Like, “I’m going to Burning Man Dave, if my job is here when I get back that would be great, if not so be it.” At this point I am already 30 years old and really not interested in what I saw as rolling around in the dirt on Ecstasy. I’ve never been a naked outdoor dude as I prefer to get naked in private. I also hate hot weather. However, as a person who attended hundreds of Grateful Dead concerts in my early twenties, I felt some empathy ( however ignorant!) for the event. Time off granted. Go nuts.
The amazing thing about the early years of Burning Man is that it yielded thousands of rolls of film for me to develop and print. The event quickly became our biggest photo processing time of the year. Bags upon bags of dusty rolls of film to process and print. All the same photos really, almost like you could give the same set of pictures out and no one would really know the difference.
As the event grew to the epic scale it is today, photography began to change over to digital and we began to get a bit nervous. Each year more people came to the desert, but we processed less film. I remember going to a dinner party and some guy said to me that I should sell my business because everything was now “digies.” I sort of took this as a wake up call, and we slowly made the plunge in to the new world, upgrading our equipment to deal with these freaking “digies” I still hate that word and the whole vernacular associated with the event, but that’s my problem.
We always kept the the film thing going because it’s just who we are at heart. Ironically, people soon realized that digital camera sensors do not take kindly to sandstorms. Fast forward ten years if I may, and we are in an age of retro photography where film is once again cool. The phrase “film is not dead” can be seen on t shirts, and all the hipsters use toy cameras. And it’s not just the hipsters shooting film, it’s everywhere. I’m selling Polaroid/Impossible Project film to a new generation of Burning Man Photographers.
Lomography is the corporate arm of toy film photography, and some have said that Burning Man has on some level developed a corporate structure. I have no facts here, I can only say that it costs money to attend so there must be someone fiscally responsible. I say it’s a perfect match (sorry)…Alternative lifestyle if you will, meets alternative photography. I know I will see plenty of Instagrams of you Burners doin’ your thing, but hope I see plenty of dusty film canisters too, and it goes without saying that if you work at Photoworks and want to attend the festival….time off is granted.