Meet the Children of Black Rock City

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A city has no future without its children — and that goes for Black Rock City, too. Burning Man’s wee dusty denizens are as much a part of this community as their sunscreen-slathering parents, but they’re not always in full view (unless you park yourself by the trampolines in Kidsville). Photographer Zipporah Lomax wants to change that by capturing BRC’s “littles” in a new book called Dusty PlayGround, which has just five days left to reach its fundraising goal on Kickstarter.

A 15-year Burning Man veteran, Lomax has long loved photography, starting with her own baby pictures. “Even when I was a really small girl, I had a sense that a photo could tell me something about myself that I couldn’t see from the inside,” she says. “They’ve always held this magical quality for me that’s never really gone away.”

As Lomax grew up and became an artist, she stayed deeply connected to kids. Her tiny stature helps her move fluidly among them, but more importantly she finds deep inspiration in the way children think, act and live in the present. “It’s not just kids at Burning Man that are unique for me,” the Portland resident explains. “It’s that they have not yet crafted these storylines about their own worth and their own significance.”

That said, photographing kids at Burning Man makes a ton of sense because “we get to meet them in a place where they already totally exist.” Of course! Kids are naturally playful and carefree and, um, hello, have been rocking that bunny suit every day of the last year.

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Lomax’s main charge, then, is doing photographic justice to these sparkling souls. One of her favorite pictures is tentatively set to be the cover (right, below); it’s of a child named Indie whom she photographed with a 135mm long lens.

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Compositionally, Lomax always wants a viewer’s undivided attention when looking at her pictures. She achieves this by separating out subjects from their backgrounds, resulting in a very shallow depth of field. It can be a challenging technique, but as long as the eyes are “tack sharp” it feels right.

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As for the final product — she’ll be shooting most of the images at this year’s event — Lomax wants the book to feel soft, warm and faded, maybe even a little washed out. Her current fundraising goal allows her to produce a 70-page book, but if she surpasses that, she’d like to aim for 100 pages and eventually more volumes. The money she raises will cover everything she needs to shoot, make and print the book, plus a 2% donation to Burners Without Borders.

The project is a culmination of Lomax’s life’s pursuits and passions, sprinkled with a hefty dose of fairy (playa) dust and something miraculous beyond that. “[Kids at Burning Man] just remind me that there’s nothing to resist out there,” she explains. “They’re not worried about the elements or how they look — they’re just rockin’ it.”

You can help make Dusty PlayGround a reality by donating here. And if you plan to bring your children to Burning Man this year and are interested in connecting with Lomax, she welcomes you to email her before heading out to the playa to make arrangements: kidsofbm at gmail.com

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(Photos by Zipporah Lomax)

About the author: Mia Quagliarello

Mia Quagliarello

Mia Quagliarello is a San Francisco-based 'Burning mom.' By day, she does curation, community and social media work at a startup; by night she's either working on her blog, Disco Nap, going out to see live music, or snuggling up with her two kids.

21 Comments on “Meet the Children of Black Rock City

  • HoneyBee says:

    The children at Burning Man are a perfect example of the joyful abandon and righteous selfishness we are all born with. (By righteous selfishness, I mean the screaming demand for sleep/water/food/shade/attention that no toddler worth their salt would think twice about expressing)

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    • Zipporah says:

      So well put! At times, the Littlest Burners seem far more capable of ensuring their most basic needs are taken care of. As they are not imbibing dehydrating beverages or partaking of energy-depleting substances (as playful adults are prone to do) as well as remaining generally well-rested throughout the week, they are naturally better equipped to handle the elements. They teach us a lot if we choose to observe…

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      • Diver says:

        So true, Zipporah! As a shrink, I have always found the kids at the burn the most amazing beauty, full-on human spirit without the personality-deadening “shoulds” the rest of us are usually busy undoing.

        Jon Felix and I will actually be doing a little filming of kids this year- just got approval from Media Mecca (:)!!) for a film project on how parents can help kids develop the psychological strengths they will need as climate conditions worsen. We are going to try to capture what you just spoke about – how kids keep their sense of play, community, and resilience under the stressful physical conditions, and how parents teach them stuff like self-reliance in this setting. Looking for any and all feedback and interest, – we will hang out around kidsville a few times. The project is at futureperfect.media.

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  • Rooster says:

    It is a lovely testimony to bringing children to BM. The photos are eye opening.

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    • Zipporah says:

      I’m so glad you agree. Indeed, with this book, I hope to help shift the oft negative perspective that Burning Man is no place for kids. I believe my photos are evidence to the contrary.

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      • Cophoria says:

        I was always worried about having my daughter at burner events but in reality I think she would flourish there. I have always tried to hide my inner burner until recently just delving into it. I think that and society has led me to believe kids and burning man doesn’t exist. But it does and these pics are truly beautiful. Hoping one day to go and experience this and bring my daughter with me

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  • JaymePDX says:

    This is great! My son was conceived on burn night 2011 and I hope to bring him home in the future. I’ve always enjoyed seeing the little ones out there.

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  • TumTum says:

    I’m going to admit it – I don’t like seeing children having a good time at Burning Man because it makes me feel less hardcore. I put a lot of effort into looking like Mad Max, and there’s nothing more deflating than seeing a kid do it better than me.

    While I may not like kids at Burning Man, I feel there’s something I can learn from them. So let’s keep them.

    But I wouldn’t mind seeing a ban on girls from 15-17, the kind that runaway from their parents’ camp for a few days and pretend they’re 22. It’s gotten to a point that if a female looks under 30, and I don’t know her, I don’t want her in my camp – perhaps picking up a beer or getting handed a cocktail. Sure, I can stand vigil and card every young woman that comes into camp, but I’d rather not play bouncer all week.

    A few years ago we had the 16 year old runaway from Kidsville that prompted an Amber Alert and shut down the city and made every man a suspect. Planes were not allowed to take off and the gate was closed and cars were searched. When she finally surfaced she had no remorse and even joked about it. Letting your teen daughter loose out there is the worst kind of moop.

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    • Ryelyn by design says:

      Please don’t call a child moop. I was in kidsville that year and the father was a wreck over what happend. Sometimes shit happens. And that day it did. I am happy to know the system for a lost kid works and that we are well taken care of. I know of many many of age women who have been taken advantage of on the playa. Shit happens out there. And it will keep happening. Life is not perfect. Even at burning man.

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      • Rodeo says:

        >I am happy to know the system for a lost kid works and that we are well taken care of.

        Except the Amber Alert is reserved for children who are actual kidnap victims. By using the Amber Alert for a simple an angsty teen girl who wanted to ditch her parents for a few days, BMorg and authorities put future kidnap victims at risk by crying wolf and abusing the system.

        There was no evidence whatsoever that she was kidnaped or even led astray. And there were many reports of men being detained as they were attemping to leave the playa, and treated like kidnappers.

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    • Diver says:

      Picked up any Mad Max tips from these kids? Honey badger also a pretty good model….

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  • Drlunch says:

    My child Dourado was at his first burn still in diapers . Its one of the only places he is able to see adults doing more than working at there jobs. Making art ,dancing and having fun. It is one of his favorite places. He is 8 and has been to 6 burns brings a rolling lemonade stand to refresh the masses and i have rarely seen him so happy as when he is at black rock

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  • Rajita Ramachandram says:

    Not been to BM and every time I feel I must be missing out on something very core to free will. Precisely why I also agree with Lomax’s take from children. Unbound and just full of oneself. Dont we all want to be? A well written piece, great photos, each almost story telling and I do hope she can fulfill her aspiration with the book!

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  • Rhonda says:

    My neighboring camp has 4 of these little wise ones. The youngest will be attending his, I believe 4th, burn this year. He is 3 years old. His first burn was in the womb. These kids are some old old souls. They have wisow beyond their years and somehow without training or guidance seem to just automatically know what to do out there. In what they do, say, everything. I love our little Rays of magical sunshine out their and can’t wait to see my “playa nieces and nephews” this year <3

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    • Diver says:

      Hi Rhonda – see my post above – interested in your observations if you’d be willing to chat? What do you think gives them this wisdom (which I’ve also observed)? The automatic nature of it?

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  • Powerfrau says:

    I love the fact that children attend Burning Man. I think they are the ones who will become the makers & creators, and make our society less judgemental. I hope, they will not accept the walls that society creates or accept the limitations that society burdens our children with. I have deep faith in the their parents & respect for their parents’s child rearing choices: show the children the world, be open to experiences, be willing to explain almost anything to their kids. It is a vision for the future…a good future. It makes me happy & proud.

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  • Maura Malini Hoffman says:

    So Much Love & Gratitude for your heart and passion and this wonderful Mission that is a Gift for us all…. and such an Inspiration for all families and shows a lovely beautiful enchanting perspective of BM!

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  • Jasmine says:

    This is an incredible project! Thank you.
    My daughter will be attending her first burn next year. Can’t wait to spend countless nights exploring the pages of your book with her.

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  • Ryelyn by design says:

    I am so in love with your passion for the little people of the playa. We have gone with our kids for 4 years now. I wouldn’t have it any other way. They slow me down and make me look. They remind me to drink water and eat. They motivate me when I have nothing left. I used to walk by art on my way to something else. Now with my kids I stop for any and everything. Their ability to find joy in the moment is something every adult on the earth needs more practice at. I can’t wait to enjoy your book for years To come. Thank you for believing in the kids. They are my world. And everyone else’s too.

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    • Diver says:

      Would love to talk with you about these interactions with your little guys – would you want to? See comment about above project on how parents/ kids interact emotionally and psychologically at the burn? Sweet post!

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  • Scot Burnley says:

    Children may be a couple of feet shorter than most burners at Burning Man, but, in Zipporah Lomax s view, their behavior in Black Rock Desert isn t too different from that of their adult counterparts. B000IOMTC 000035D6 0?

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