Turning off, tuning in

The full scene
The full scene

The Man went up yesterday, and you’ve probably seen a lot of pictures of him already. It’s the way Burning Man is now; what used to happen in the electronic cone of silence of the playa is now seen everywhere almost as it happens.

We’re as guilty as anyone, of course. Yesterday, Alpheus was kind enough to take us up on a boom lift for the raising of the Man, and we had posted a photo to the internets even before we came back down to the ground.

Everyone likes to be first, and everyone likes to show you things that other people can’t. But the lines are blurred this year maybe more than ever about keeping the experience here in Black Rock City instead of sharing it immediately with the social media.

The phone service out here this year has been banging. In previous years, AT&T customers like us have been forced to use a “roaming” service when we arrived in Gerlach. The data restrictions were severe; check your email a couple of times, maybe post a pic, and you’re about done. (Verizon customers have always fared better, with more reception and no roaming to deal with.)

But AT&T has apparently put up new cell towers in the area, and phone service on the playa is 3G with four bars pretty much all the time. We’re thinking that that will change once there are 70,000 people here, and the circuits will become overloaded and all but impossible to use. But the communications landscape has changed.

Roo on her way to the big Man lift
Roo on her way to the big Man lift

It’s not a new discussion, whether to be connected to the rest of the world during the event. But the Burning Man organization believes that being connected to the world runs counter to the value it places on immediacy.

“Last year I was out at one of my favorite places to dance,” Communications Director Megan Miller said the other morning, “and I saw three guys standing in a circle looking down, in the white glow of their phones, and I was just like, ‘This is the one place you go where that’s not supposed to happen,’” she said. “You know, they should be talking to each other, or dancing!”

Miller said the organization gets a lot of feedback and discussion from participants about the issue of cell phones here, “and I don’t think I got a single one that said, ‘I’m so glad I can use my cell phone there,’” she said. “What I got was, ‘I saw people riding across the playa, on their phones, like you see in San Francisco,’ and how they thought it was an intrusion.”

Of course there’s no law or rule against being on your phone, “but we do try to set an example by not being on social media while we’re here,” she said.

The estimates are that by Friday there will be enough people here to make cell service unreliable, so there won’t be many as Facebook updates or fresh Instagram photos. So I guess enjoy them while you can, because the genie goes back in the bottle soon.

While we’re on the subject of media: You all probably know of Burners.me, the gadfly site that writes extensively about Burning Man culture. We’ve debated the merits of the content there on numerous occasions, and generally we leave it to the reader to determine when the writer(s) are grinding an axe, and when they are simply reporting the news. We believe “caveat emptor” is the appropriate term.

The Man in the middle
The Man in the middle

But Burners.me did something we thought was really crappy this morning. They took a photo of ours from Facebook and posted it as their own.

Now, I realize that posting photos as public on Facebook has its risks. But, as reader Josiah Sean succinctly pointed out, “The easy and organic process of appropriate redistribution of personal works on social media is to hit the SHARE button, so that it is still connected to the author. Burners.me went through the effort of downloading the picture and reposting it so that all comments and likes and interactions would be associated with their Facebook page. #FuckedUp. This was a methodical and dishonest approach aimed at self-promotion and advancement … (and) it makes it that much worse.”

ExACTly.

The photo in question, of the Man being lifted into place yesterday morning, was NOT posted on the Voices of Burning Man site. It was posted on my personal page, and just lifted from there. So, Burners.me, do the right thing and take it down. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. It’s called stealing.

UPDATE: Burners.me has taken down the photo and offered an apology. They sent along a screen shot of the same photo that had been posted to the Facebook Burning Man page, where a Brian Romans first put it up. Now, the argument can be made that Burners.me just ripped off the person who ripped off me. But, “I do consider photos of Burning Man posted on the Internet to be fair use in discussing Burning Man,” Burners.me wrote in a message to us. “I’m not making money or trying to rip anyone off or claim credit for their work. Most Burners are happy to gift their photos to others.”

Our friend Sidney only had eyes for the Man
Our friend Sidney only had eyes for the Man

Ok, fair enough, but: 1) Lawyers get paid to decide if “fair use” includes using other people’s copyrighted work. 2) It would have been easy to attribute the pic to the person who originally ripped it off (although there was no “share” button available) (and we guess there was no intent to rip anyone off, just excitement about seeing the Man go up). 3) I think I gift as many photos as anyone. Maybe not the most, but probably in the top ten. 4) The larger point here, the teachable moment, for all of us, is to give credit where it’s due. We try to name the artists in any pictures we take of the art out here. Maybe you should too. And because you see something on the internet doesn’t mean that you can take it as your own. And yeah, we know, good luck with that.

There’s a changing of the guard going on at the Center Café today. The build team, aka the Oculus crew, is pretty much finished constructing the site, and the Décor team is about ready to make it all look pretty for you.

The Décor crew was out mooping the site this morning, something we hadn’t seen happening before. Betty Boop explained to us that they do the line sweeps inside and outside the tent three times a day now. “It’s easier to keep a handle on this as you go along,” she said, keeping her eyes peeled on the ground for Matter Out Of Place (moop) – screws, nails, bits of glitter, anything.

Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks

The line sweeps aren’t the only thing that’s new. Twin Peaks is the new head of the Oculus crew, the first time in our knowledge that a woman has led that team. “It’s different here,” she said this morning, talking about the gender neutrality of the place. Her assistant is Austintatious, and she’s new to the role, too.

Almost everyone on the crew is either new or in a new role. The only folks with institutional memory are Monkey Boy, who’s been one of the backbones of Oculus for as long as we can remember, and Stinger, who’s been the lead rigger for the past several years.

Rigging is a big deal at the Center Café. It is believed that the Café is the largest temporary tensile structure in the world. The shade covers nearly an acre of ground, according to Twin Peaks, and it’s a place of both refuge and entertainment just about any time, night or day.

These are the only times that you get to see the beauty of the structure itself, all geometric patterns and beautiful light and shadow. The Décor team will soon do its thing, and when the event starts, it is one of the finest places on the playa for people watching and people meeting.

Betty Boop on the line sweep
Betty Boop on the line sweep

Tomorrow they’ll roll out the rugs, and Thursday they’ll put up the flags. “The Café isn’t the Café until the flags so up,” Twin Peaks said.

The speed limit in Black Rock City has dropped to 10 mph as more and more people arrive. Many of the artists and bigger theme camps are setting up, and it was estimated this morning that there are about 5,000 people in the city. That’s a very unofficial estimate, though, and it should not be taken as authoritative.

We were out at the Temple of Promise, and we talked to Jazz, the lead designer of the piece.

Jazz designed the Temple of Promise
Jazz designed the Temple of Promise

It’s his first time building big art out here, and only the third time he’s been to Burning Man. What’s the hardest part about the job?

“One to five,” he answered. That would be 1 o’clock to 5 o’clock, when the heat is at its worst.

Jazz was awarded the Temple project honorarium the second time he applied for it. The first time was in 2014, when he read that proposal applications were due in 11 days. “I had an idea to make the Temple about transition,” he said. “So I got something that went from big to small. … And straight lines are kind of boring, so we put the curves in,” he said.

The lead builder of the Temple, who’s been playa-named Mary Poppins because he seemingly dropped from the sky to help them out, is also a newcomer. He’s built big art before, but not here, and it was his job to translate Jazz’s vision into something that could actually be constructed.

“Jazz designed the whole thing in a gaming software,” he said with a chuckle, “And, uh, there was no real relation of gaming software to architectural prints, so I took on the challenge of re-drawing the structure from the ground up.” And that was a continuing challenge; at the build site in Alameda, “I was on one machine, trying to keep ahead” of construction, he said.

Long view to the Temple
Long view to the Temple

Jazz is not the only first-time big-art designer out here this year. He and his Dreamer’s Guild team are new; Bree, the lead designer for Storied Heaven, is doing her first big piece, and Charlie Nguyen of the Mazu Temple and the Department of Public Art is doing his first big piece, too.

“We like to think that we’re establishing a new generation of artists,” Betty June said at the Artery.

More photos from around and about:

IMGL9592

The Mazu Temple at sunrise
The Mazu Temple at sunrise
Evenings can be just stupid gorgeous
Evenings can be just stupid gorgeous
Heather making sure the Man's boots stay on the ground
Heather making sure the Man’s boots stay on the ground
Andrew was framed by the walls of the Maze
Andrew was framed by the walls of the Maze
Bruiser handled the big crane for the big left
Bruiser handled the big crane for the big left
Up he goes
Up he goes
All lined up to watch the action
All lined up to watch the action
The Man in repose
The Man in repose
Most art projects start out looking like this
Most art projects start out looking like this
The arches of the Temple of Promise are all in place
The arches of the Temple of Promise are all in place
Alpheus gave us a lift
Alpheus gave us a lift
Spoono's car is still in the open playa
Spoono’s car is still in the open playa
Gary, Roo, Opa and Metal Shop Heather
Gary, Roo, Opa and Metal Shop Heather
A Dana Albany sculpture will be at the heart of the maze
A Dana Albany sculpture will be at the heart of the maze
Spoons for Spoono
Spoons for Spoono
A few members of the crew who did the lift
A few members of the crew who did the lift
The Man was still lit up with neon as the dawn broke
The Man was still lit up with neon as the dawn broke

About the author: John Curley

John Curley

John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since. I was a newspaper person In a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients, and I'm especially fond of shooting weddings. I'm also the editor at large of the Tasting Panel magazine, which is devoted to the beverage industry. I've also taught a bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on a (house)boat in Alameda, California.

17 Comments on “Turning off, tuning in

  • G says:

    Hey John !
    Are they building the Man differently this year so he falls sooner than last year’s looooong burn? I mean, short attention span theater and all . . . . .
    :)

    Thanks for the pics.

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  • Apollo says:

    dude, your reporting about the Cafe needs a major correction. Austintatious is new in the role of assistant manager, but has been on Oculus crew for many years and carries quite a lot of institutional memory. An unintentional slight I’m sure, but one that bears correcting.

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  • john curley says:

    wellll, maybe. Yes she has institutional memory, most definitely and good point. But she IS in a new role, and that’s that main point I was trying to make.

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  • john curley says:

    but if she feels slighted, i’ll definitely rework it

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  • cindy says:

    John, you post a picture online and complain that it gets re-used, and also threaten legal action? FFS, cry me a river.

    Welcome to the Internet.

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  • john curley says:

    Who threatened legal action? Not me. I said lawyers get to decide that shit. I don’t have lawyers.

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  • JV says:

    The post on burners.me begins with:

    “Setup at Black Rock City always excites the hell out of me, so I thought I’d share these Instagram photos from the hard workers out in the desert already!”

    The writer states at the top that they are not his photos and were grabbed from public accounts on the internet. It’s extremely common for people to reuse photos from public accounts in blog posts, as I’m sure you’re aware, and as long as one doesn’t try to pass them off as their own, it’s a pretty accepted practice. Also, a quick email to burners.me to request the photo be taken down is all that was necessary, as a few others did for the same post. All requests were honored quickly. To call him out on the Burning Blog like this for a non-malicious oversight reveals quite an axe to grind. I don’t agree with a lot of what the writers on burners.me write, but they are a valuable resource at times.

    That said, I always enjoy your set up posts, especially during the years I’m not attending (like this year). Keep up the good work!

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    • John Curley says:

      We’re talking about two different incidents, JV. The pic in question was taken down. The post itself explains the common practice of sharing, not downloading and posting as your own. I did email Burners.me, and they did take it down, as the post also says. We had a constructive conversation via email. And I share your thoughts re: not always agreeing with the site, but they do report things that no one else does, and that’s very valuable.

      Onward!

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      • JV says:

        I’ve been off Facebook for a few years now, so I don’t know if you can share Facebook pictures to a blog post via the Share button. If so, I agree that would be the right thing to do. If not, what would you prefer?

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    • james says:

      i came here to also fully agree that i thought the shaming of burners.me for sharing a photo that was pasted from public social sites about something that many are interested in was…not a realistic or helpful post, and its tone rubbed me the wrong way. i disagree with how this was stated and think your expectations of social media sharing is unrealistic. just saying…

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  • Admarz says:

    Hey John, thanks for your updates, pictures and great writing! -Adam

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  • burnersxxx says:

    There is a simple solution for photographers who want to post their Burning Man pics on social media, and get credited for taking the image. Add a watermark. Most professional photogs at Burning Man do that, and it makes it incredibly easy to give them the credit. If there is some other way to find out who “owns” a particular image posted on a Facebook group, please share.

    What are we all trying to achieve here? Spreading Burning Man culture around the world? If so, sharing photos should be encouraged. Maximize financial and legal ownership of all images for Decommodification, LLC? Then public shaming and legal threats are the way to go.

    I point readers to Mr Curley’s earlier posts about bugs being everywhere. With that, his photos were used by many for-profit media enterprises, including “CNN, SFGate, Gawker, Mashable, Rawstory, NBC News, Vanity Fair, Channel 4 in San Francisco…We’d be assembling a legal team if we didn’t already know that the normal and customary fees for what would likely be called “freelance submissions” range all the way from nothing to about fifty or a hundred bucks. You don’t get the big money doing journalism.”

    So when all those big media companies do it FOR MONEY, the position is “oh well, the photo is only worth zero to fifty bucks so it’s not worth suing for”. Burners.me is a free site, made by Burners for Burners, and gifted to the community. You know, like a gift economy, free from commodification – what I thought this thing was supposed to be all about. I would argue that no-one else spends more time on their gifts to other Burners, since we’re doing this every day, not just for a week once a year. Vanity Fair gets a pass, but we’re the bad guys, huh?

    Isn’t Burning Man supposed to be a charity now, exempt from paying tax because they are providing a public beneift? What charity asks for donations to fund lawsuits against its own constituents?

    Just add the watermark, John. That way you will always be credited for the photo wherever it shows up on social or mainstream media.

    This raises another issue: crediting artists for the amazing sculptures that make for such great images. Anyone can take a good photo of Bliss Dance, but only an extremely talented artist (and his team) can make it. BMOrg needs to take the lead on encouraging and facilitating this behavior. It is not easy to identify who the artist is behind a particular art installation.

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  • John Curley says:

    Sharing is caring. Press the share button, don’t download and repost as your own. Simple.

    And yep, post the artist’s name every time. I wish there was a plaque with every piece on the playa, but I’m guessing they taken.

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  • Larry Harvey says:

    I’d like to comment on the tendency of the media to suck the mystery out of things. For example, the funhouse that surrounds the Man this year is meant to generate immediate encounter, but now we see images of it plastered all over the Internet, so that people may guess and second-guess about something they haven’t yet seen. This reminds of the biblical story of Doubting Thomas, which concerns the Second Coming.

    According to John 20:24-29, Jesus appeared to his disciples after being crucified, and they went out to spread the good news. One of them, Thomas, hadn’t been present, and when they told him of this wonder, he said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Jesus then obliged and reappeared to them, saying to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Thomas apparently complied and was well satisfied.

    A second version of this story appears in the Lesser Apocrypha. It seems that Thomas wasn’t quite content with this. He called in his family, and all them wanted to take a selfie with Jesus, grinning broadly, with their fudgy fingers in his side. As a result, Jesus contracted sepsis and died a second time. Maybe there’s a case for restraining our fudgy fingers.

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  • john curley says:

    perhaps it could become an Articulated Community Value (ACV) to take pictures of people, not things, before the event. ok!

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  • Mitch says:

    On the lawyers/fair use debate: Lawyers don’t actually get to decide that, judges and juries do.

    While John Curley probably didn’t mean to suggest a lawsuit, in America there is virtually no prior restraint allowed on what journalists can publish. So if Burnersxxx publishes a copyrighted photo and the copyright holder objects and Burnersxxx makes the argument that it’s fair use, then the copyright holder would have to sue him if they sought compensation or restraint, either claiming that it wasn’t fair use or that Burners.me isn’t a bona fide news organization. It doesn’t matter if it’s for-profit or not .

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prior_restraint

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