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A Look Inside The Spectacular Interactive Outdoor Art of Burning Man

Writer/photographer NK Guy chronicles 16 years of Burning Man art in a new Taschen coffee table book The Art of Burning Man

  • <p>Artists: The Man: Larry Harvey, Jerry James, Dan Miller, and the ManKrew. <br />
Man base: Lewis Zaumeyer and Andrew Johnstone.<br />
The Burning Man figure, atop his massive flying saucer base, burns dramatically at the festival's end.</p>
  • <p>A piece of lonely lost luggage – performer Pi Feathersword – wanders disconsolately across the playa.</p>
  • <p>Artists: Kevan Christiaens, Matt Schultz and the Pier Group<br />
A group of participants and their friends, rowing nowhere in a small landbound dinghy next to the Pier 2 project. At the end of the pier is La Llorona, a replica Spanish galleon.</p>
  • <p>Artists: Lisa Pongrace, Greg Solberg and the Acme Muffineering team.<br />
Rolling cupcake and muffin vehicles roam the playa. Each car is unique, and made as a personal project by its respective owner, in collaboration with fellow muffineers.</p>
  • <p>City plan by Rod Garrett<br />
An aerial view of Black Rock City, the temporary city in the Nevada desert that is home to Burning Man.</p>
  • <p>Artists: Kevan Christiaens, Kelsey Owens, Bill Tubman, Joe Olivier, Matt Schultz, and the Pier Group<br />
Embrace, a massive wooden sculpture 70 feet tall, burns at dawn. The work symbolizes the nature of human relationships, and was built to burn.</p>
  • <p>Artist: Andy Tibbetts<br />
A handcrafted pirate ship vehicle, driven by an ingenious front wheel with no axle.</p>
  • <p>Artists: David Best and the Temple Crew <br />
The structure is believed to have been the largest wooden structure, without a foundation, ever built. The Burning Man temples are memorial sites for remembrance and mourning, and are burned at the conclusion of the event.</p>
  • <p>Artists: Gregg Fleishman, Lightning Clearwater III, and Melissa Barron<br />
The stone sculpture, carved from black basalt by Jael</p>
  • <p>Artist: Duane Flatmo and Jerry Kunkel<br />
El Pulpo Mecanico, a rolling art vehicle. The enormous octopus is constructed from scrap metal, and can wave mechanical tentacles to the obvious joy of participants.</p>
  • <p>Artists: Steve Hall and Becky Stillwell<br />
A wooden sculpture, containing a complex arrangement of gears, levers, and spinning heads, and operated by a hand crank.</p>
  • <p>Artists: Larry Harvey, Jerry James, Dan Miller, and the ManKrew<br />
The Burning Man figure raises his arms in this 20 second long exposure. Minutes later the sculpture was deliberately burned, at the culmination of the festival.</p>
  • <p>Artists: David Best and the Temple Crew<br />
A powerful laser beam, built by Russell Wilcox, was installed thousands of feet away across the desert floor, and aligned with an opening in the upper level of the Temple.</p>
  • <p>Festival participant Kaspian Khalafi stands atop the smoldering embers of the Burning Man effigy, the morning after the burn. The dramatic skies are the result of massive forest fires blowing smoke all the way from Yosemite, California.</p>
  • <p>Artists: Larry Harvey, Jerry James, Dan Miller, and the ManKrew<br />
The Burning Man effigy appears to walk into an enormous acetylene fireball.</p>
  • 01 /15 | Man Burn, 2013

    Artists: The Man: Larry Harvey, Jerry James, Dan Miller, and the ManKrew.
    Man base: Lewis Zaumeyer and Andrew Johnstone.
    The Burning Man figure, atop his massive flying saucer base, burns dramatically at the festival's end.

  • 02 /15 | Lost Suitcase 2013

    A piece of lonely lost luggage – performer Pi Feathersword – wanders disconsolately across the playa.

  • 03 /15 | Pier 2, 2012

    Artists: Kevan Christiaens, Matt Schultz and the Pier Group
    A group of participants and their friends, rowing nowhere in a small landbound dinghy next to the Pier 2 project. At the end of the pier is La Llorona, a replica Spanish galleon.

  • 04 /15 | Cupcake Cars, 2006

    Artists: Lisa Pongrace, Greg Solberg and the Acme Muffineering team.
    Rolling cupcake and muffin vehicles roam the playa. Each car is unique, and made as a personal project by its respective owner, in collaboration with fellow muffineers.

  • 05 /15 | Black Rock City, 2011

    City plan by Rod Garrett
    An aerial view of Black Rock City, the temporary city in the Nevada desert that is home to Burning Man.

  • 06 /15 | Embrace, 2014

    Artists: Kevan Christiaens, Kelsey Owens, Bill Tubman, Joe Olivier, Matt Schultz, and the Pier Group
    Embrace, a massive wooden sculpture 70 feet tall, burns at dawn. The work symbolizes the nature of human relationships, and was built to burn.

  • 07 /15 | CS (Clock Ship) Tere, 2013

    Artist: Andy Tibbetts
    A handcrafted pirate ship vehicle, driven by an ingenious front wheel with no axle.

  • 08 /15 | The Temple of Transition, 2011

    Artists: David Best and the Temple Crew
    The structure is believed to have been the largest wooden structure, without a foundation, ever built. The Burning Man temples are memorial sites for remembrance and mourning, and are burned at the conclusion of the event.

  • 09 /15 | The Temple of Whollyness, 2013

    Artists: Gregg Fleishman, Lightning Clearwater III, and Melissa Barron
    The stone sculpture, carved from black basalt by Jael

  • 10 /15 | El Pulpo Mecanico, 2014

    Artist: Duane Flatmo and Jerry Kunkel
    El Pulpo Mecanico, a rolling art vehicle. The enormous octopus is constructed from scrap metal, and can wave mechanical tentacles to the obvious joy of participants.

  • 11 /15 | Gearhead, 2013

    Artists: Steve Hall and Becky Stillwell
    A wooden sculpture, containing a complex arrangement of gears, levers, and spinning heads, and operated by a hand crank.

  • 12 /15 | The Man, 2012

    Artists: Larry Harvey, Jerry James, Dan Miller, and the ManKrew
    The Burning Man figure raises his arms in this 20 second long exposure. Minutes later the sculpture was deliberately burned, at the culmination of the festival.

  • 13 /15 | The Temple of Joy, 2002

    Artists: David Best and the Temple Crew
    A powerful laser beam, built by Russell Wilcox, was installed thousands of feet away across the desert floor, and aligned with an opening in the upper level of the Temple.

  • 14 /15 | Remains of the Man, 2013

    Festival participant Kaspian Khalafi stands atop the smoldering embers of the Burning Man effigy, the morning after the burn. The dramatic skies are the result of massive forest fires blowing smoke all the way from Yosemite, California.

  • 15 /15 | Man Burn, 2011

    Artists: Larry Harvey, Jerry James, Dan Miller, and the ManKrew
    The Burning Man effigy appears to walk into an enormous acetylene fireball.

He came for the party, but stuck around for the art.

For 16 years (1998—2014), London-based Canadian photographer NK Guy made the great pilgrimage west to Burning Man—an end-of-summer experimental community of 70,000 that springs up for a week in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. (This year’s festival, themed Carnival of Mirrors, runs August 30—Sept 7.) His goal: chronicling the spectacular interactive outdoor art dotting its vast dusty expanse, known as the playa.

The result of those trips are in the newly published coffee table book, The Art of Burning Man, from art publisher Taschen.

Some of these works are standing structures that people can climb; others are dynamic "mutant vehicles" that jaunt across the desert. Many incorporate stunning feats of engineering, electronics, and pyrotechnics, while still more require human interaction to function. They amaze, educate, or make you think. And at the end, many are burned, some find permanent homes off-playa, while others make return visits.

"Nothing else on the planet approaches the event's scale, visual ambition, and emphasis on personal discovery and community experience," says Guy. "It’s become the greatest show of interactive, site-specific, and temporary art on the planet, albeit paradoxically ephemeral. It’s a key aspect of Burning Man, and separates it from your typical summer festival."

Guy initially snapped photos of the artwork during his first burn, in 1998, to share with friends, but realized the potential for a grander presentation after coming across Wired's coffee table book Burning Man the following year.

"I started getting serious about creating a visual record of the work, and for the past 11 years or so I’ve had the sole goal of making a book. Sixteen years and 65,000 photos later, here it is," he says.

"The book was its own kind of longitudinal survey, but each year it was a treat to see what the artists had come up with," adds Guy. "The canvas, the vast desert backdrop, is always the same, but every iteration of the event has its own tone or flavor, depending on the art that’s out there."

The project involved a unique set of hurdles. Like photographing the city in darkness through the open door of a plane, driving a four-wheel drive up a mountain cliff to spend the night and take photos at dawn, or shooting an exploding Man as fireworks rained down down on his hardhat.

"Desert life is exhausting and harsh on delicate camera equipment. But those challenges have helped me expand my skills as a photographer in ways I wouldn't have thought possible," says Guy. "When I first went I took a couple of film cameras, even a few disposables, and snapped photos like a tourist. Nowadays it’s a more elaborate experience—I fill my luggage with camera gear, and buy clothes and supplies once I get to the States. I spend a lot of time composing photos, interacting with the artists, and taking shots from interesting vantages and points of view."

NK Guy

The book includes tales behind the shots, but one story that didn't make it in involves a black and white photo at the end, of the Man in 2000. "It was one of those magical moments," he recalls. "I’d gone out with some friends, and we’d done a little photo shoot in the open desert using infrared film. When we finished we headed back to the city, but a dust storm blew up and we became separated.

"I cycled blindly around for a while to suddenly discover I’d arrived unexpectedly at the Man," Guy continues. "At that moment, the dust clouds parted. And there was the Man, backlit by the sun, a silhouetted black figure against brilliant scarlet. (I was using a red filter for the IR film) I took one shot, and the camera started rewinding—that was the final picture on the roll! A moment later the clouds closed in and the scene vanished. That moment was decisively gone.

"When the film came back from the lab, it was exactly as I’d imagined it, it was kind of a revelation. It’s still one of my favorite photographs."

[Photos © NK Guy/TASCHEN GmbH]

Slideshow Credits: 01 / All photos by © NK Guy/TASCHEN GmbH;

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