Photography Without Consent: A View From Inside The Ride

[Carolyn Ellis, aka Kali, rode in the Critical Tits Ride for several years before becoming one of the principle organizers of this storied Burning Man tradition. This post is part of the Digital Rights Blog Series.]

I care deeply about camera and privacy issues on the playa.  This has not always been the case.  My first Critical Tits Ride changed all of that – no woman who enters that ride with any degree of vulnerability comes out the other end unaware of the cameras and their misuse.  To ride is to experience, and witness first hand, the cost of photography without consent.

Critical Tits Ride, 2005 (Photo by Cameragirl)
Critical Tits Ride, 2005 (Photo by Cameragirl)

To understand the harm inflicted, you must step inside the body of a woman riding topless and attempt to feel how vulnerable and courageous an act that truly is, even at Burning Man.  My greatest wish, for all who ride, is that they would be witnessed with nothing less than compassion and respect.  As a rider and now member of the CT Crew, I would like to offer a perspective from the “composition material” – those who inhabit the images taken, the riders themselves. Join me, if you would, for a perspective from inside the ride. . . .

It feels fabulous, and I mean fabulous, as a woman to ride topless on my bike!!!  No man can ever understand the freedom of a topless bike ride in a female body.  I was slipping free of the ‘rules’ of my family, culture and government – so well programmed that I thought they were my own.  A collective oppressive cloak was sliding off of my body and being powdered into playa dust by all those goddesses on bikes.  It felt so good and free.  An adventure like this would land me in jail in the default world!!  Here at BRC, it was a lyrical day on a bike.

My first ride we were late and missed joining the excited throng gathering at the Man.  No worries; we pointed our bikes toward the snaking line in the distance and sped off.  The breeze on my breasts felt amazing as I raced over the playa with two of my favorite women in the world.  I felt like a super power, goddess and exuberant child all rolled into one.  I was awash with the freedom of the first day of summer, and more. . . . no way to explain, just complete joy.  And then, for the fist time in many to come, a sudden sorrow arose.  I felt a deep wound I could not name.  There was a voice I could not quite hear.  Then it was gone, as fast as it arose, washed away by the collective whoops and hollers rolling towards us as we joined up with The Ride.

Critical Tits Party From Above, 2003
Critical Tits Party From Above, 2003

Wow!!!  Truly, wow!  The numbers of women in the ride were astounding.  And all those breasts. . . painted, jeweled, proudly bare; large, small, buxom and athletic; young breasts, mother’s breasts, redesigned breasts and missing breasts; on tall women, short women, ectomorph and zaftig — there was no shortage of variation here — so much variety and so much power!  Oh for our commercial definition of beauty to embrace such a dazzling display.  And what a gift for the city of BRC to have it!

As we were absorbed into this astounding sea of women, we began to ride through pockets of gathering bystanders.  Most were waving and cheering, some were offering gratitude, others spritzing and drinks.  All keeping a respectful cheering distance.  I was amused at how much I was enjoying the sweet celebrations as we rode by.  Both men and women made up the bystanders and the women among them puzzled me.  Why weren’t they with us?  How could any female not want to join in?  And then, we rode into the oppression of the first gauntlet.

Possibly due to returning to the city or riding through an art project, the ride slowed and condensed.  The onlookers began pressing in on the riders, at times compressing them to as little as two and three bikes across and slowing them to a walk.  Many an onlooker took the opportunity of the slowdown to enter into the ride itself, standing amidst the bikes, camera to their eye.  The crowd felt substantially less friendly and supportive.  Cameras were plentiful, close and heavily in use, accompanied by a constant babble of breast comparisons and body ratings.  I never once heard any one ask before clicking.

The individuals creating the gauntlets are not representatives of the general public at Burning Man; they are, however, fair symbols of our larger culture’s treatment of women.  The onlookers of the gauntlet radiated objectification, judgment and hunger.  More startling was the offenders seemed to have little idea that they might be offensive.  And sadder and more thought provoking, many women, cringing as the ride further compressed, looked distressed and said little to object.  Our joy ride had entered a manifestation of our programming in the default world.  Now I understood the revelatory joy of the ride as well as my sorrow at our collective loss.

We live in a world that has done an excellent job of dictating our vision of ‘beautiful,’ ‘feminine’ and ‘acceptable.’  And then made use of this vision to sell, manipulate and shame.  I, and others, have quite effectively internalized the propaganda.  My first ride through those gauntlets brought this home in a way no political article ever could.  Somewhere in me something unconscious and collusive was shredding and something powerful and feminine was emerging.

By telling the story of an unwilling model for an anonymous Burner’s photo, I am not intending to vilify, nor to grant importance to one group over another.  It is my intent to engage in a compassionate discussion about awareness, respect and the ability to change our world.  And in particular, I am interested in applying this awareness to the use of cameras along the CT route and during The Ritual.

As part of the CT Crew, I have received e-mails from many women mirroring my same experience, asking what CT is doing to combat such activity.  Many, in the face of such disrespect, choose to avoid a powerful playa event.  I invite all to consider and pass the word of the personal, civic and human cost of such unconsciousness around photography.  It is a betrayal of trust between a woman and her community and the capacity for one individual to create harm is great.

"Ask First" at the Critical Tits Ride
"Ask First" at the Critical Tits Ride

I am not arguing for a ‘camera free’ ride (although I do love the idea), I am a believer in ‘Ask First.’  Those captured in an image embody a variety of life histories, levels of confidence and/or shame.  They alone should decide how their bodies are recorded and for what purpose.

I have heard ‘the horse is out of the barn’ argument: cameras are everywhere, nothing to be done.  The same logic could be applied to racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism and a variety of other areas of social unconsciousness.  I find this to be a request to support the status quo and cease the commitment to awareness and compassion.  I would hope we would not choose silence because the problem seems too challenging.

What I would love to see is

  • compassion for the risk being taking by the riders
  • appreciation for the cultural shift being created by this ride
  • respect for the human beings one might want to photograph.
  • a re-commitment to the Burning Man creed: Participate.  Engage with the people you would like to photograph.  If you cannot engage them, do not transgress them.
  • ALWAYS “Ask First” and listen for the response.  Snap away with the ones who respond YES.  And respect the ones who voice NO.  Silence is not yes.

I offer no quick solutions but a request for a deep look at this issue from the perspective of respect and compassion.

[Carolyn Ellis, aka Kali, with a background in architecture and fashion design has found her biggest design challenge lies in creating true original thought.   She is currently living in the land of ‘in between’ — moving from somnambulant thinking to the challenge of being awake.  She finds Critical Tits at Burning Man to be one of her best cups of coffee yet.]

About the author: Carolyn Ellis

Carolyn Ellis, aka Kali, rode in the Critical Tits Ride for several years before becoming one of the principle organizers of this storied Burning Man tradition.

67 Comments on “Photography Without Consent: A View From Inside The Ride

  • Louis Daguerre says:

    This is surely a minefield, but I will attempt to tread lightly.

    Since when did we become so fragile? The implication that someone who chooses to go out in public (at a private event that has 45,000+ people on public land) on a bicycle in a “courageous act” of shunning our normal culture by bearing her breasts has any right to not be photographed is absurd.

    If the intent to is to be courageous why would you accept stiffling that courage by attempting to build a bubble of privacy around yourself? Sort of diminishes that courage to show one self when one is ashamed and feels hurt when someone makes a photograph. Remember, there are No Spectators at Burning Man, what does one expect, people to quietly stand around and spectate? This is hardly equitable.

    Your wish for compassion and respect would be better served by showing the community of Burning Man that same compassion and respect. If being photographed in public might cause you to feel hurt, that is your responsibility, have the compassion and respect to realize the public is not to blame for your choices.

    You speak of shedding an oppressive cloak, sadly when the woman sheds it the nature of the misnomer that is privacy at Burning Man gracefully puts the very same cloak of oppression on the people who might make a photograph of someone participating in Critical Tits.

    The idea that anyone needs permission to make photographs in public (at a private event that has 45,000+ people on public land) is foolish. It is quite apt that the description of the author at the bottom of the page says it is a challenge to create “original thought”. This idea is hardly original and thankfully for photography as an art and as an important part of our culture the rest of the world largely doesn’t think in such selfish draconian ways.

    To make this an issue of gender is to miss the overall point. If we are to put limits on photographing anything we have already lost the spirit of creativity, radical self reliance, radical inclusion and the No Spectators ethos that Burning Man has thrived on for years.

    Again, this is not an issue how society sees women or how females are treated. It is about people who assume a veil of courage only to renege on that courage it as soon as a challenge comes. The responsibility should not be on the public at Burning Man to suit these performers tastes. If the performance artists believe it may prove to hurt them, that performer is responsible for that choice. Surely everyone knows that any performance, no matter how courageous will be documented from the get go. Why the surprise? Why the hurt feelings?

    Clearly you put responsibility on the riders by saying that the riders alone should decide how their bodies are recorded. I am not sure why this responsibility needs to be disjointed from the participants riding and placed upon the people who view the ride. Shouldn’t the riders be responsible for themselves, as the adults they are? Remember Radical Self Reliance? If they choose to participate in the public ride knowing it could offend their sensibilities to be photographed I have a hard time feeling sympathy for them when they get photographed.

    Cameras are nothing new as you aptly put it, the horse is out of the barn. Yet you go to talking about compassion and awareness. If we are to be compassionate and aware one would expect everyone who lives in 2010 to be aware that cameras are everywhere and that one doesn’t show compassion by limiting what and how photographers (who have just as much right to create their work as the riders have to perform the ride) make images. Remember radical inclusion, radical self expression?

    What I would love to see is:

    1. People taking responsibility for their own actions. Be radically self reliant. If you know that walking around naked without sunblock might hurt you, do not do that. If being photographed topless hurts you, do not go around topless. You can choose to cover up, you have no right to choose the way the 25,000+ cameras are used.

    2. Appreciation that by imposing draconian arbitrary rules on creativity does nothing to promote a cultural shift. You’re merely bringing the selfish default world way of thinking to Burning Man. If you want to be courageous do it without limiting the scope of that courage by protecting yourself in a protective bubble that suits your personal sensibilities.

    3. Respect the participants at Burning Man who watch your ride by not imposing your sensibilities on the entire public. Don’t want to be seen, Don’t Ride.

    4. A re-commitment to the Burning Man creed: Radical Self Reliance. If riding and being photographed hurts you, you have nobody to blame but yourself and your own sensibilities.

    5. NEVER Impose your sensibilities on others. Practice Radical Inclusion and Radical Creativity by allowing participants at Burning Man to freely Not Be Spectators in any legally allowable way they see fit.

    Your request was and is an offer of a quick solution. A solution of murky dark water that applies disrespect and a lack of compassion on anyone who offends your sensibilities.

    I think we can do better than this.

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  • Jason says:

    I feel that the people who go to Burning Man to have a big “beer and tits” party goes against what Burning Man is about. Sure, it is about self expression in a myriad of ways, but letting it turn into a Mardi Gras for people who want to make fun of freaks and see tits everywhere is detrimental.

    The women on the ride should have every right to not have their photo turn up on creepy voyeur internet porn sites. Even further going against the Burning Man ethos, these sites are making money off of photos of these women taken without their permission.

    One of the tricky things is how to distinguish between people taking photos because they genuinely think the ride is awesome and just want a few photos to reminisce over later on and those taking photos for surreptitious purposes. You can’t. Unfortunately it is a matter of either letting everyone take photos or no photos at all.

    I am glad I don’t have to make that choice.

    Great post in a great article. I am finding this whole debate very interesting and thought provoking.

    P.S. My rule for the people I am going with is that if they want to go watch the Critical Tits ride they also have to participate in the Critical Dicks ride. It gives a whole new perspective on how the women on the ride feel.

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  • Todd Gardiner says:

    One things that remains unclear to me is what additional personal benefits women gain from making this a gathering and a public event.

    Obviously the freedom and the confidence gained from breaking clothing taboos can be won in the deep playa, alone with the wind. You do speak some of the power that the acceptance of other women brings to the CT rider.

    But what is it that is gained from making this an event that is public? Where the gaze of clothed women and many, many men is garnered by the spectacle of a mass bike ride through the city streets? And, for such a novel act, how to cameras take away from what a woman gets from this event instead of adding to the effect of the gaze of the crowd?

    Absolutely these photos should not appear in public; with that I completely agree. And I am a long standing proponent of ask, ask, ask (although I recognize that there are some circumstances where the asking shortly follows the photo; where your subject is leaving the scene on her bike prevents the asking and is not one of these circumstances). But that is an argument against publication, not photography.

    I’m not asking because I am looking for an emotional loop hole or to discredit the desire of women participating in the ride without cameras. I honestly want to better understand this concern and I feel that the explanation about what makes cameras worse than the “male gaze” is missing from this otherwise detailed and thoughtful post.

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  • Brody says:

    (I say this as a female who would NEVER ride in Critical Tits. Not from body shame, etc., but because of the photographer issue)

    I appreciate the ideal-world scenario where Burning Man as an event holds space for women to go freely about with utmost respect from all photographers. But that’s not reality, and probably won’t be during my lifetime.

    It’s like the story of the monk who sets off barefoot on a long journey. His feet soon start hurting and he pauses by the side of the road. An older monk comes along and asks what’s wrong, and he says that he’s trying to devise a way to cover the path in front of him with leather to protect his feet. The older monk suggests instead that he cover his OWN feet with leather, rather than worrying about covering the path.

    I’m covering my own titties, thank you, rather than trying to stifle photographers. Creepy dudes with cameras will always exist and that’s out of my control. What is within my control is what I wear and how I appear to them. Much less stressful that way.

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  • Armando says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I do not believe Burning Man is a public event. Though it is on public property, it also is, I assume, under an exclusive-use agreement with the feds for the duration of the event. Therefore, all arguments about “being able to take any pix you want in public” are specious. Cameras could legally be banned entirely from Burning Man. Now, cameras can be used to create art, and art is one raison d’être for Burning Man, but unlike other art on the playa. most photographs taken on the playa don’t appear on the playa. They don’t appear until after the event, off the playa. So they don’t contribute to the event in progress. In my mind that gives photographers at the event something less than unimpeachable status. I’m a photographer, and I know other photographers, and I know some who see the act of photographing another person as an interactive engagement, and others who see it as a predatory “I will get my picture no matter what” engagement–I once heard a photographer use that very quote and was pissed off when he then made me his prey. I wish all those photographers would just stay the hell away. But they won’t. Alas, I’m afraid I have no idea how to allow some photographers in but not others. I hope some solution can be found.

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  • Louis Daguerre says:

    Re: The comment from Armando. (already posted elsewhere)

    Of course the event is private. But to claim that 45,000+ people gathering on public land for a private event honestly really and truly gives any of those people a right to any more privacy than is granted anywhere else in Nevada is asking a bit much in the way of getting off on a technicality.

    If they truly want to forbid photography, it becomes an instance of trespassing in the closure area if the photographer doesn’t stop. I have the same rights to every freedom that federal law and Nevada law grant me whether I’m on private property or not. One of these rights is Freedom of Speech and the free expression that comes with it.

    Burning Man can impose their own rules and if the public does not abide by they will have to (or should be told to) leave. You do not get a blanket of protection just because the event is private, the photographers still have their rights and if Burning Man decides one of those rights being practiced is unwelcome on their event site they are welcome to have that person removed.

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  • Red Head Barbie says:

    As a female photog I found the ride compelling before attending. However after hearing the complaints of the riders I chose to not participate in any way. BM may be considered a private event however there is no legal expectation of privacy in a public setting. Privacy expectations are limited to one’s home which the entire city of BR is not. I feel that to attempt to place these ideas of invasion on the ride removes the respect the women are asking for by reinforcing the idea that really deep down inside they are doing something wrong, naughty, or bad by exposing a portion of their body that men expose without shame. I wore no top the entire event and felt no shame at any point. I am quite sure there were men who looked at my breasts or photographed them without my express consent. However, when I purchased a ticket, arrived at the event, took off my top, I gave my consent as was written on the ticket. Continuing to hold out the breast as ‘special’ just empowers those who think inappropriate thoughts. No matter what you or anyone does to control the crowd you cannot impact those thoughts other than through a shift in thinking that removes the special status of the breast. Without stigma there is no shame.

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  • Peg says:

    I absolutely agree with Carolyn’s description of her first CT ride. Thank you for your eloquence; I could not have put my feelings into words any better. It was the most amazing experience. I rode alone on my first ride in 2006 and made many instant friends of the other women along the way. And I have fabulous photos in my collection of all of us, for which proper permission was granted. I, too, was curious about the women on the sidelines. Who wouldn’t want to experience this exhilaration? I actually took great pleasure in the respectful way the men treated us as we rode by. I even renamed the event “Critical Teeth” after that since all I could see of the men were their huge grins! I had the distinct feeling of being appreciated and admired rather than leered at or lusted for. It was a very amazing high for me. Yes, there were cameras, but I didn’t mind then. We were ALL having a fabulous time.
    2007 was fun, too, but then came the 2008 ride. That was my first experience with too many frat boys. They were wandering around as we prepared to depart and snapping away with no regard for the women as human beings. One guy was holding his camera nonchalantly at chest height and turning around snapping, trying to look inconspicuous. I told him to stop, that he needed to get permission, and he denied he was doing it! Made reference to me being a bitch and wandered away. That was the beginning of my last CT ride. As we tried to ride, we kept stopping and starting. The male spectators moved in closer and closer so there was no room for all of us. It wasn’t a ride any longer; it was a GD photo shoot. And we had nowhere to go! Talk about feeling vulnerable. I was so angry at them and then so angry at myself for not bringing anything to cover up with. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough because they were blocking and laughing at me! I still get so pissed off every time I think of being stuck in that situation.
    I have wondered about this whole photography issue. Isn’t there enough porn on the internet? Really good shots of women who want to be photographed and hopefully being paid for them? I don’t’ know what the answer is but it does seem that the spectator, frat boy population is increasing. I really didn’t mind being photographed as I rode by, but if you are standing next to me, you had better ask me. And DO NOT inhibit the riders! There is no other event like this in the world! It is about women enjoying ourselves. It’s all about us and very, very little to do with the guys. It’s about respect and consent. Don’t ruin it for us. Thank you, Carolyn, for the efforts you are making to ensure that other women have the opportunity to enjoy the same amazing experience that we both did.

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  • Louis Daguerre says:

    It was good to see another perspective from an actual participant, Peg, thanks for sharing.

    It is sad to see that one of your rides caused you to feel vulnerable and upset.

    But, you did read your ticket in 2008, didn’t you ? When you told that person that he needed to get permission by what authority were you basing that on? Sure, it would be polite if he had obliged you (and we would hope that everyone would have), but he was not under any requirements to do so.

    I have a 2008 ticket right here and it says “Your image may be captured on film, video or photographs without your consent or compensation”. So, the idea that you are given any privacy because of it being a Private Event is not valid because you gave that right away when you used the ticket to get in to Burning Man. Also, federal and state laws uphold the right for anyone to photograph anyone else if they are in a public place where a convincing case could be made that the subject of the photograph had no expectation of privacy.

    Seeing as your ticket gives away any right to not have your image made at the event and the laws of the land agree I cannot understand why you would ever think that someone cannot photograph you while participating in an open air bike parade. You surely would have a case for privacy in your tent, or in a porta potty. But Critical Tits is neither of those, it takes place in the public common area of this very large private event.

    You mention, Peg, that you feel that Critical Tits is about Women and has very little to do with Men, you mention that it is also about Respect and Consent.

    My view has been that this event had nearly everything to do with Men and how they, and our culture in general, look at Women and it offered up a way to change that view by showing, en masse, that women are capable of riding in public topless with pride because they want to, period. And possibly, just possibly, in doing this they would remove any shame and stigma that might cause a woman to feel vulnerable because someone saw them topless by causing the Men and anyone else to not see bearing breasts as a sexual act, but a human act.

    What, it reads like to me, at least from the perspective described by Peg above is that Critical Tits is about teaching Men that No means No and that the breast is sacred, and that bearing it in public is something we should have many constraints around. If this is true, what goals can Critical Tits really achieve? Wouldn’t that only do more to continue the same feeling of vulnerability each time someone points a camera at you?

    There surely must be an equitable solution somewhere. I think the first step toward a solution is education. When participants at Burning Man have not even read their ticket and show up inside of the event with false perceptions of what may or may not happen there will surely be some not-very-enjoyable times ahead.

    That goes for people coming expecting to be able to buy water, and food just as much as people coming in expecting a right to not be photographed.

    We all need to be on the same level playing field in terms of how educated we are on the topics that we feel strongly about before we can come up with an equitable solution that pleases the majority of participants.

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  • Dan Dawson says:

    Thanks for sharing your story and I was glad to read your perspective. Burning Man is an incredible event and I am saddened that it looks like I will not be able to attend this year. I’ve seen the CT ride in past years as they cruised through camp and could sense the excitement of the participants as they experienced the activity. Burning Man is an experience for all… in every activity, in every breath of dust and shared smile.

    Part of my experiencing Burning Man is taking photographs that I share freely to other artists and those not able to attend the event in person. Whenever possible I ask those I photograph for permission, even if it is just me pointing at my camera and giving a questioning shrug. If the smile and thumbs up is returned, I am free to document the moment. If I get a funny look, the camera goes back in the bag and I just enjoy watching.

    So my reason for writing actually is the idea of the images above, “Respect our bodies, ask first” … while that works perfectly in a small group setting or when photographing an individual… but from my experience the CT ride is several hundred people moving rapidly past, and each image taken might have 20, 50, or even 100 people in it. If a person decides to join in a parade through a public space surrounded by 50,000 of their closest friends and their 25,000 cameras… most shouldn’t have an expectation of privacy in participating.

    I do however, encourage the development of a “camera free zone” of the event if you were interested… I can definitely see areas far outside of the towns, camps, center camp, etc, where groups could go and experience the freedom without the crowds… but I think that goes against the point of the ride and the experience. I have a feeling the crowd would still want to ride to where the audience was, and passing through Center Camp and the crowds would be the end result like always anyways.

    Thanks again for the article, best of luck with future events, and I look forward to returning home soon!

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  • Louis Daguerre says:

    Camera Free Zone.

    Sounds like a good idea to me. This has president of course.. We have our Large Scale Sound Art area…


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  • Todd Gardiner says:

    Thanks Peg, for explaining to us a little more about why a woman would want to do this public activity.

    “I, too, was curious about the women on the sidelines. Who wouldn’t want to experience this exhilaration? I actually took great pleasure in the respectful way the men treated us as we rode by. I even renamed the event “Critical Teeth” after that since all I could see of the men were their huge grins! I had the distinct feeling of being appreciated and admired rather than leered at or lusted for. It was a very amazing high for me. Yes, there were cameras, but I didn’t mind then. We were ALL having a fabulous time.”

    I see that in your case, the camera (in-and-of-itself) is not the problem maker. Rather, it enables intrusive and disrespectful behavior from the photographers.

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  • Lisa says:

    The victim blaming in the conversation enrages me. Being “self reliant” women have to accept it? Hmm sounds like a rather antiquated 1950s definition of self reliance. FUCK THAT BULLSHIT. I say radical self reliance is full scale retaliation from all the men and women who are fed up with this desease.

    So you’re naked on a bicycle. A man swings in to capture it for his personal collection. To clarify you tell him, “Do not take my photograph.” or “I did not consent to that picture, please delete it.” Time and time and time and TIME again, the fucker will sneer at you or ignore you flat out (!!!) He is a man, you are a woman, and you realize that the parameters of this event are being dictated by men whose sole purpose is to objectify you.

    Having these interactions where you are dehumanized repeatedly, with absolutely no recourse, is damaging and draining yes it’s fucking victimizing.

    This is sexism in full swing and the fact that we are still having the She’s Asking For It debate is makes this girl go Hulk Fury/Tank Girl on people’s asses.
    They are vile, they are misogynistic, they don’t give a fuck whether you consent, some of them seem to enjoy it when you do not consent, all they care about is adding to their ameteur porn library and the bottomline is they are sexual predators. I am talking about the man who will not stand down from his idea of a right to photograph you naked even after you have told him it upsets you.

    What I think we really need to be dissecting is: what is the legal landscape for scenarios where girls destroy cameras. I really think it needs to be a militia. My only concern is not damaging the playa bed with projectile liquids, so what are some eco- friendly camera destroying measures?

    I really think that given the apparent lack of feminist consciousness in mainstream BM culture, this change has to originate from the CT participants themselves.

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  • Louis Daguerre says:

    I am sorry that this conversation has upset you, Lisa.

    I’d suggest you take some time to calm down and thoughtfully overlook your contribution to the conversation. Did you help?

    Your effort has done nothing to quell any sexism that may or may not exist. In fact, by bringing up the issue with such vitriol you might only serve to further the divide between the genders.

    The solution is not violence. The solution is not in destroying property. The solution is not calling people names.

    The assumptions you make are specious at best. Calling people sexual predators is a very strong accusation.

    If your post, Lisa, represents the average rider of Critical Tits it would not surprise me to learn that some minority of people have little respect for the requests of the riders.

    After being accused of being sexist, vile, misogynistic, victimizing sexual predators whose property should be destroyed (without any real reason to believe any of this) it would not be hard to see why someone would ignore what you have to say.

    If posts like yours, Lisa, represent the type of feminist consciousness you’d like to see at Burning Man… I can safely say that I would not welcome it.

    We can do better than divisive name calling.

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  • Brody says:

    “If posts like yours, Lisa, represent the type of feminist consciousness you’d like to see at Burning Man… I can safely say that I would not welcome it.”

    I’ll go +1 on that. I don’t want to be associated with this kind of vengeful rage. I’d much rather keep my clothes on, or go enjoy being naked in the deep playa without soliciting an audience and then trying to punish them for being interested in what I’m waving around.

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  • Mew says:

    The sexism in this comment thread hurts. Louis, most of what you have said can be boiled down to terms that you can easily look up on Google, “derailing” and “mansplaining”. It is no wonder that your comments are pissing people like Lisa off.

    If you have not experienced sexism and objectification your entire life, as most women have, you really are in no position to explain away women’s experiences. If you had people telling you that your experiences weren’t valid, you’d be pissed, too.

    I agree with the commenters who are welcoming and appreciating the insights of women and CT participants. I love the idea and purpose of the event and it is too bad that BRC is no longer a safe space in which to fully realize these ideas.

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  • Katie says:

    I think some people are seeing ‘victims’ where there aren’t any. Do people really think that by choosing to participate in a PARADE OF BOOBIES, one suddenly becomes a victim? Common sense needs to factor into this equation, folks. Sure, it’s ‘victim blaming’ if someone pulls out the old ‘don’t wear a miniskirt if you don’t want to get raped’ argument, but there has to be some personal responsibility here too. If something makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it. (Doctor, it hurts when I do that….don’t do that then).

    But I guess instead of the easy route of ‘don’t do that then’ some people want to change the whole rest of the world around them instead of taking responsibility for themselves. I admire your spirit but don’t agree with you.

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  • Louis Daguerre says:

    I think that if we were to attempt to boil down any discourse we can likely see the things discussed through any prism that we desire, be it sexist, pro equality, peaceful, loving, derailing or, the quite amusing mansplaining prism.

    But, if we really want to have rational discourse that will likely not serve to solve anything.

    That you, Mew, refer to some of the comments here as sexist as hurtful while also using terms that largely could be described as sexist themselves (mansplaining) really is confounding. What is your goal?

    Derailing was mentioned as well, I personally did not feel that this article, or the issue of photographing one without consent was about an inherently sexist issue. Both men and women at burning man have to deal with being photographed without consent, and both of them have to deal with being photographed nude. Men participate in the Critical Dicks parade. In my opinion it seems that people who would like to interject sexism and feminism into this debate are derailing it.

    To me it doesn’t seem intellectually honest, in the course of an open debate, to claim that if one hasn’t walked in the shoes of another their input has no position being involved. You thankfully prefaced your comment with an “If” and that is great because at least you did not assume that I have not been subject to sexism and objectification. I am sure I need not mention that Men do not have a monopoly on being sexist or objectifying.

    I appreciate your view and it is enlightening to know how people have interpreted what I’ve contributed.

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  • Lisa says:

    I think that naming sexually predatory behavior is actually essential to the discourse, because it does happen and it shouldn’t be normalized. I was only name calling the photographers fitting the profile I described. I think the actual nature of these interactions is truly degrading and worth the venom in my words. Save a few F-bombs here and there, and I stand with the conviction in my earlier posting.

    Instead of limiting the discourse to political camps that break down upon further inspection (photographer versus CT rider, man against woman) I sincerely wish and hope that we could start naming the actions that go unnamed again and again and swept under the rug as inevitable (for whom? I’m not okay with it, multitudes of men and women are not).

    If my subsequent anger and frustration causes you to doubt it’s unfortunate existence at CT, then there is nothing I can do to change that.

    I think communication and signage is obviously going to be integral. What I think should be a top priority is educating CT riders on the tools at their disposal in case of an exchange like the one I detailed. If playing by the rules victimizes women again and again, what choice do we have but to protect ourselves until the rules catch up?

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  • Louis Daguerre says:

    It is good to see that you are still taking part in the discourse, Lisa.

    I think that real Sexual Predators are an issue for the police to deal with. I feel that they are beyond the scope of this blog series.

    While it might genuinely make one feel degraded to be photographed while taking part in Critical Tits, I feel that as to the claim that the act of photographing without consent is actually inherently degrading or inherently the act of a Sexual Predator is specious.

    The implication of what sounds like vigilante justice doesn’t seem to me to an equitable way to deal with this issue until the rules ‘catch up’. For some in the minority they may Never catch up to a level they see appropriate.

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  • Lisa says:

    “Doctor, it hurts when I do that….don’t do that then.”

    My stance is basic and has nothing to do with changing the world to dictate to my sensitivities (I derive much enjoyment from CT). If someone doesn’t consent to the picture you just took of them, you should be obligated to delete it. If the rules on the back of the ticket don’t support this, I think they should. I think there needs to be a stronge ranger presence at CT to enforce this as it is a magnet for photographers. As it stands, this commonplace scenario inevitably disempowers the victim. I believe I used the right word.

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  • Phil says:

    As one of the more prominent photographers of Burning Man (see ) with a strong belief in “ask first,” I’d like to encourage other photographers, amateur and pro, to do what I do and simply take a break to enjoy watching the CT ride without the camera. Let’s boycott it, in the best sense, and just enjoy the moment without seeing it through a viewfinder.

    There are a million things to photograph at Burning Man during the week, and countless opportunities to photograph willing and eager tits, if that’s what you’re looking for, so why risk raining on someone’s parade by pulling out the camera at CT?

    The only time I’ve made an exception is when I had a previous arrangement with a woman who wanted to be photographed on the ride. The rest of the time, I find myself watching happily from the sidelines and suggesting to the frat boys around me that they put the camera away and just enjoy the spectacle. I’ve actually found people to be surprisingly receptive to the idea, when it’s put in terms of respect and privacy (and accompanied by a little peer pressure.)

    I know we’ll never get rid of every last yahoo with a point-and-shoot, but it’s nice to dream of a voluntary camera-free zone springing up out of the collective zeitgeist, sort of like that collective silence at the Temple Burn, which is not enforced by rules, but just happens because it’s the cool thing to do.

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  • Stewart Prince says:

    Carolyn, thank you for your well thought out post. I bring a camera and I take a lot of pictures, when I can I ask everyone’s permission. I do not photograph naked or topless women on the playa. I do not go to the critical tits parade because it’s not why I go to Burning Man and the older I get the more I appreciate the concept of freedom. I can see all of the pics I want on the internet taken by insensitive and sophomoric idiots. Thanks again and I just don’t get Louis G. pontificating about something he has nothing to do with, but I support his right to articulate his views which he does very well.

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  • Kosho says:

    2002 was my first year and as an artist and photographer I was especially surprised at how little consideration other men showed when using their cameras. Particularly when there is a well publicized policy of asking before photographing. But let’s be realistic – voyeurism is so rampant in the culture that and open event like BM is going to attract plenty of it. The only hope is that each and every one of us that does “get it” – to be respectful and conscious in all we do – take the time to politely engage those who do not. But this self-regulating behavior doesn’t appear to be working.

    2002 CT – I was standing next to a man taking lots of shots with a camera equipped with a long lens. When I reminded him of the policy of asking before shooting, he responded with a four letter word. So I asked him how he would feel if it was his wife or girlfriend that some guy was photographing without her knowledge. He ignored my comment.

    2008 Central Cafe – a photographer was handing out postcards that were printed with photos he had taken during previous years. The photos featured breasts, buttocks and other parts of the mostly female anatomy in a particularly detached and crude presentation. I sat and observed with shock and dismay as people actually lined up to receive samples of his work. I suppose I could have confronted the fellow but I sensed I would have gotten into a pointless argument with a bunch of sympathizers.

    So I give up. In my experience (6 trips to the Playa) BM is large scale gathering with very little consciousness that goes beyond any other large scale event. And I’m tired of the holier than thou attitude of many participants. Sure, there are a few artworks and performances of interest (my reason for attending), but as someone who has not gone remarked to me: “Isn’t that just one big drunken party?”

    Oh, and one more thing. BM culture is dictated mostly by men with a very narrow male consciousness. Only a man would chose such a hostile environment for a gathering. Burn things. Blow stuff up. If you are a woman with any intelligence and sensitivity, you would not go there in the first place.

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  • Telemama says:

    I find this tread very interesting.

    I think it is really important to remember what the consequence of a photograph can be in this digital age. A school teacher from Nebraska might not even want a picture of her at Burning Man, let alone on the Critical Tits ride, to be found in the default world. Does that mean she shouldn’t even come to Burning Man because photographers have the right to take her picture?

    The issue as to what rights and responsibilities a photographer has are more complex than have been alluded to in the reference to the ticket language. First of all, the ticket not only says “Your image may be captured on film, video or photographs without your consent and without compensation.” It goes on to say,” You hereby appoint Burning Man as your representative to protect your intellectual property or privacy rights, recognizing that Burning Man has no obligation to take any such action.” This implies that Burning Man recognizes that your privacy might be violated by a photographer and they might (and have) use their power to protect it.

    Furthermore the website under the section of Rights and Responsibilities for Media and Participants says, “One of the abiding principles of Burning Man is that participants do not interfere with the immediate experience of other participants.” Clearly photographers getting in the way of women riding by on their bikes is interfering with their experience. The website goes on to say, “You should ask for permission before photographing or filming any participant. If you are planning to use this imagery to show anyone other than your friends and family, you should obtain a written release from anyone you photograph.”

    Finally, I want to say that I resonate with Lisa’s frustration. We live in a culture where women do not have the same rights as men. While the phenomenon of shirtless men is so common that restaurants often have a “No shirt, no service” sign, women have been thrown off airplanes for daring to breastfeed in public. And to take the attitude that women are asking to have their picture taken because the participate in Critical Tits is dangerously close to blaming the victim of rape for her clothes or allowing her date to pay for dinner.

    We can do better. Lets be real about what the impact of photographers is on the experience of women in the ride and the repercussions that such photographs might have if they are posted on the internet.

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  • Peg says:

    Okay, Louis. I was simply going to refrain from responding to your condescending B.S., but I can’t. Did Lisa help the conversation? I’d say yes she did. It’s another viewpoint, just like yours. No, not just like yours; hers had feeling. Did you even read my post? I stated clearly that I did not mind being photographed. To be clear here, I happen to have large breasts and been dealing with the leering, etc, for my entire adult life. To feel free enough to go topless and feel with wind on my breasts is the most amazing feeling! What a wonderous place to have that freedom. Something you will NEVER understand. Yes, I came late to the party; 2006 was my first year. But I did a lot of research prior to going to BM to be sure I understood the philosophy and ethos of this new-fangled community. I adored it well before I got there. So much so that the very first thing I did on my first ride on the open playa was to rip my top off….and just ride. No one was in my face (or breasts) trying to photograph me. They may have been in the distance doing it, but I really didn’t mind. My camp had an art car and I rode topless on that and saw the cameras pointed my way. I didn’t mind, I even posed; but it was my choice and I adored it all. I even accidentally ended up in the Naked Bike Ride. Respectful men asked to take my photograph and I happily agreed! And I have some of them with permission, as well. Then there were those who were grabby and obnoxious, and I quickly distanced myself from them. The point is cameras are everywhere on the playa. But I DO HAVE A CHOICE AND A VOICE if I do not want to be photographed! Did I read the back of my ticket? Yes! But that does not give away my right to exercise my rights as a human being. You mentioned the breast being sacred? No, if I didn’t want my face or my big toe photographed, I should have the same say. No should mean no in ANY context.

    This is getting rather long, but I do have one more story to tell. A few years ago, I witnessed the DPW parade. I think these women and men are awesome with the work they do to ensure our good experience. I yelled my thank yous and took many photographs of them as they drove by. This past year, I saw them coming, grabbed my friend telling her we need to go and show our appreciation. Well, this time as I took photos, they yelled at us saying we need to stop taking pictures because we need to ask permission. I honestly though they were just doing their mock obnoxious thing and kept taking photos. Then they started yelling obscenities. One guy got off his rig, marched over to my friend and forced her to delete all the photos she had taken. My point being toward Lisa’s comments about smashing cameras – the DPW guys were overbearing and rude – do you think the majority of women feeling the same way would be able to force these guys to delete the photos? I think not.

    And thank you, Stewart and Telemama, for your posts.

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  • What an amazing discussion. I have been moved by every single entry. In a time when sound bytes are the norm, to be participating in a discussion with individuals who take the time to write thoughtfully is astounding. Discussion, any discussion, is a key to our humanity. It is through listening with curiosity about what is motivating ‘the other’ that we truly expand our world. I thank all of you for engaging with me.

    I would like to reiterate more clearly that this blog entry is not a discussion of rights. It has never been my intention to say that no one has the ‘right’ to take a photograph of the CT ride. I am not writing from a legal perspective. What I am interested in exploring is something far more ephemeral and elusive – how well do we actually ‘see’ one another, how does the way we see influence what we see and how have we confused the act of seeing with the act of using a tool to record our seeing. How we see each other is how we connect, or rather, how willing we are to truly do so reflects how much we are willing to accept another as human. I do believe that, especially in the context of the CT ride, cameras interfere with this intimate act.

    Cameras are now a universal icon of seeing and being seen. They are powerful tools used to create memory, emotion and image, while unnaturally extending the ability of a witness to revisit an event, elicit detail and combine images – among other things. And they are not the act of seeing itself. A shared experience with some one behind a camera is quite a different experience that that of a shared experience with someone’s open gaze. One is neither, inherently better or worse they are just different. What experience are you seeking and what is the intention behind it? As with any tool, it is the hands that hold it that bestow intention. And it is the intention behind the cameras that shift the experience for the riders of CT – both the conscious intention motivating the photograph and the possibly unconscious intention of the witness to remain hidden.

    For a women, being topless anywhere is still loaded. Please remember it is an arrestable offense. And that is wrong. The most important issue that CT has taught me is the deep unrecognized powerlessness (and thus rage) that exists within a people whose very thoughts about their bodies are not free. So to answer the very fair question earlier of “What personal benefit does a woman gain by making this gathering public?” She gains EVERYTHING. She begins to reclaim sovereignty of her own body. (Men are constricted as well, just not as obviously and as successfully as women.) She can ride a bike without a shirt and NOT be arrested. And she doesn’t have to do it in deep playa or in the dark or only inside of her own camp. This sounds simple. It is anything but. And to do so and be received in joy and compassion for the fear overcome to do so is a connective bond with one’s community that is rich and deep and nourishing. It says – I can be free, I am seen in my freedom, and I have witnesses to my power.

    “And what makes the cameras worse than the male gaze?” To begin with, the cameras mask the “Critical Teeth!” There is a sweetness and sense of community to riding through a sea of smiling faces. One is seen and sees. There is an equal exchange of the experience. I know who my witnesses are. There are no masks and at its best spots it is mutual transportive joy.

    The next layer is more difficult to explain. In the removing our shirts and entering the ride, the women of CT are striking out against objectification and allowing more of our hidden selves to be seen. Yes, you see our breasts, but if you were to look through your heart with your eyes you would see something far more hidden and radiant. Each woman rides with such vulnerability that her beauty is startling. This is what most hide even more than their breasts and it has nothing to do with fragility and victimhood. It has everything to do with a fierce honesty and real life experience successfully survived. To show up with such transparency and be met with faces hidden behind cameras and attempts to illicitly record these moments for an unknown use feels imbalanced at best. To ride through gauntlets of individuals stepping uninvited and rebuked into my direct path with camera recording my image feels, yes, predatory.

    And deep inside me I do know that the aggressive cameraman is only mentally predatory if I accept his belief about who I am. My belief system is my gatekeeper who invites in shame. By dismantling that, I am free. AND that is a very difficult knowing to hold on to. I touched it once at last year’s post-ride ritual and it has fed me all year long, but not continuously. It is a practice and a hard one. It takes great dedication to unwind the tight grip of our programming.

    The Critical Tits ride can be a moment of such unwinding for many women. To those who view a request for compassion in the midst of such a moment as support of victimhood, I offer that it is just the opposite. It is a moment of clean and clear connection where one is seen and supported for all that we are. In that place I will offer anyone all the support I am capable of. And that is what I ask of the Burning Man Community – to be of service, to listen and to see deeply. It will be reciprocated.

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  • Lee Douglas says:

    Carolyn, reading this thread, it seems to my simple mind that one of the largest problems is the choke point that develops where the crowd moves in and nearly stops the event. That allows a lot of up close picture taking and is likely not an accident. Predators in nature, like wolves use this tactic all the time.

    Ever been to a parade where the crowd keeps pressing forward and the police and organizers keep pressing them back? Sure you have. It’s called crowd control, and as an organizer of the event, it’s partly your responsibility to provide crowd control, or request community help from the BRC.

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  • Justa regular guy says:

    Louis Daguerre …I wish to take exception to your posts because in reading them i am offended and embaressed by them as a man, and as a thinking person.
    Specious: adj.
    1. apparently good or right though lacking real merit; superficially pleasing or plausible: ex: specious arguments.
    2. pleasing to the eye but deceptive.

    “But, if we really want to have rational discourse that will likely not serve to solve anything.”
    “The assumptions you make are specious at best. Calling people sexual predators is a very strong accusation.”
    “After being accused of being sexist, vile, misogynistic, victimizing sexual predators whose property should be destroyed (without any real reason to believe any of this) it would not be hard to see why someone would ignore what you have to say.”
    “But, you did read your ticket in 2008, didn’t you ? When you told that person that he needed to get permission by what authority were you basing that on? Sure, it would be polite if he had obliged you (and we would hope that everyone would have), but he was not under any requirements to do so.”
    Let’s take a moment and back away a bit from these prime examples of speciousness…
    Tis true, the tickets may have legalese typed on the back but that misses the point. More importantly, one of the basic tenets of BM is radical participation and more importantly our respect for each other’s right to radical participation. It’s clear to anyone even REMOTELY trying to live up to the BM tenets that for these people, participation in this ride IS radical participation and is frequently even more heavily laden with personal, emotional and societal meaning. To crowd them, photograph them and treat them in the manner described, certainly DOES NOT respect these people or their right to radical participation. In addition, this behavior just doesn’t respect them as a person. In fact, it is a prime example of wrong behavior which continues to be foisted on society and accepted because the perpetrators are “within their rights”. IT may not be civil, considerate, polite or socially acceptable, but there is no express law that PROHIBITS this behavior so the incosiderate clods think that makes it OK. You have heard people talk of the disappearance of civility in our society, this is a great example. It may be legal, but is it right? Is it considerate?
    I am sorry Louis but I tihnk it is YOUR mindset and behavior that is not acceptable at BM.

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  • Agama says:

    I too am offended and embarrassed by Mr. Daguerre and agree wholeheartedly with “justa regular guy”.

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  • Justa regular guy says:

    Louis Daguerre and crew… I have provided a link to the ten principles here. I encourage you to read them over, for retention. Mull them over. Several of the principles could be cited in this instance. Civility and civic mindednes, and just plain concern for the wellbeing of your fellow Burner comes thru in most of these principles. Be safe and I wish you growth and wellbeing.

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  • Todd Gardiner says:

    I’m very glad that I asked those questions. Your answers were as illuminating as I hoped they would be and I now have the beginning of an understanding as to why this event transverses public areas.

    Note to Kosho,
    The Rangers have no enforcement power. Just like any other citizen, they can request certain behaviors, but only the upper echelons of the org can actually kick people out of the event for transgressions.
    Of course, the perception of authority is their great secret, and they do get better compliance from requests than the average citizen. But if someone ignores a crowd’s shouted complaint to delete images, they are probably going to ignore a Ranger too.

    The tragedy about cameras vs. Critical Tits is that sharing the joy of the riders and the interplay of crowd and riders by taking a photo destroys the shared joy and turns the interplay into antagonism.

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  • Wish I was as literate as some here, but I can still add my 2 cents.

    I am a photographer and burner. And my post of “Chuck De Luck”s” first BM has a playa playmate sans oben. She told me she trusted me implicitly as to using her picture in my video.
    I am sorry that there is abuse with pictures from BM, but we will have that everywhere and always in all aspects of life.
    There is always, “a turd in the punchbowl” it seems. It’s about respect, and I see no way around it except to ban cameras or tits.
    I would vote for banning the nudity as part of the BM experience for me is having a creative experience out there. It’s about art, eh? freedom of expression.
    I love my camera and it’s kept me from going looney in these jobless times.
    If you are afraid of being tagged on facebook, don’t do it.
    And I just sent my daughter, 25, who will attend first time this year, a link to the crit tits website to see all the female things they have planned.
    If she shows all, that’s her decision.
    I am petitioning to put speed bumps in the street in front of our camp to make things more lively. LOL
    Sorry girls for the perverts, but I can relate, being a teenage hitchiker in LA in the seventies and being hit on by the gays. ( the only thing I don;t care about gay men). No means no. No offense to anyone.

    Anyway as I ramble…isn’t this Louis guy the guy who got galleries pulled from BM websites because of his overly photoshopped shots he was trying to sell?

    PS, you should live in Europe where they think we are a bunch of ultra conservative religious types.
    I dealt with and enjoyed the nudity and open sexaulism over there.Tits at the public pool, the page three girl in the newspaper, the local girls showering with the local guys after volleyball games at the schoolhouse. And especially the coed saunas at the gym.
    This is the case of the muslim society, that every guy is a pervert animal and you need to hide or it’s YOUR fault he attacks you, or stones you, or honor kills you.

    Probably pissed at least one person off with this post…… Ces’t la Vie

    Chuckie D

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  • Louis Daguerre says:

    re: “Anyway as I ramble…isn’t this Louis guy the guy who got galleries pulled from BM websites because of his overly photoshopped shots he was trying to sell?”

    most certainly not.

    I have not and would not make photographs at Critical Tits.

    I saw it once in 2007 (Without a camera). That was enough for me.

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  • Sorry then Louis.
    Someone was had photos for sale and got stuff pulled from the BM site.
    Good, but heavily photoshopped pictures.
    Why couldn’t the guy just gift them?
    The commercial crap is popping up allover.
    eg, Playazon: 12 bucks gets you in the lottery to use our mutant vehicle for a night, buy tokens to private potty’s with attendants, etc.

    Vote for speed bumps though, lol

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    WWTGD – What would Tank Girl do?

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  • To Lee Douglas. . . . “as an organizer of the event, it’s partly your responsibility to provide crowd control, or request community help from the BRC.”

    Wish that CT could insure no pressing crowds and joyous passage for all. On the other hand it is Burning Man. Part of the magic and the wild card of all events here is most are co-created by all involved. No ‘crowd police’ but we do have community help from BRC. It is here in this conversation, in conversations in other venues and in the moments of the ride and ritual themselves – we engage with our fellow burners and ask for awareness. It is also amazing the growing support as we put out our call for male and female volunteers for the ritual. Much of the work many do involve engaging the ‘frat boy’ weekend photographers. It is stunning some of the turn arounds that happen!

    Heading offline for a week. Thanks for the conversation. If you have more ideas re: CT and cameras or just want to create with us on the playa, you can also find us at

    And if you are all still talking when I get back, will love to jump in again. Ciao.

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  • sandfly says:

    I think BRCLLC contributes to the disharmony around photography of CT, by failing to have a coherent policy about photography.

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  • Scott says:

    I may have only been going for a few years but in that time I too have noticed a growing number of “tourist” or “frat boy” types showing up at the end of the event. I find that I enjoy TEITD less as the week goes by and these tourists arrive, to the point that I am considering packing up and leaving on friday just to avoid them.

    What I am wondering is why not move events like critical tits earlier in the week? This is when the population of Black Rock City is much more likely to be respectful to the CT riders. If the CT ride is moved up in the week it may even encourage the tourists to not show up, or maybe they will spend enough time on playa to begin to absorb the lessons of community and respect that are central to why I and my campmates attend in the first place.

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  • Daniel Solnit says:

    Profound thanks to Carolyn and all the women who shared their experiences of Critical Tits. I actually avoided it last year after hearing a couple crass ‘titty show’ remarks from other men, and not wanting to be around that whole attitude. It’s difficult for us men to really ‘get’ at a visceral level how much objecification and predatory behavior women have to deal with every day in this culture, because we mostly don’t get targeted with it. Hearing women talk about this is essential for me to understand how the sexism actually affects women, and how I may (regardless of good intentions) play into it at times.
    I hear Carolyn, Lisa, and the other women speaking, not as powerless ‘victims’, but as powerful, capable people having to deal with a kind of psychological assault from some observers / photographers. The problem’s not just a few guys with their head up their ass; it’s the whole force of the mainstream culture that treats women as objects, as less than fully human, hovering like a cloud behind these photographers, justifying / reinforcing their behavior and undermining the sense of liberation and re-humanization that CT is creating. (Imagine that third-grade art teacher who said you had no talent hanging out in front of every art installation and ridiculing it.)
    The fact that folks with ignorant, crude, objectifying attitudes towards women always show up at BM is not a reason to accept or accomodate it, or just shrug it off. While smashing their cameras may not be the answer, confronting this behavior in some constructive way is essential. Critical Tits belongs at BM, exploitative photography doesn’t. Since we can’t ban it, let’s at least make it as socially unacceptable as shirtcocking and moop-dropping.
    The best part of BM is the opportunity to free ourselves from the repression and social conditioning we get back in the default world – not re-enact it on each other out on the playa. A big part of the cultural values I hold at BM is treating each other with real respect, even reverence – particularly around the parts of our selves and our histories that have been devalued, degraded, denied. That certainly includes women’s bodies, and how we all look at each other. If we can get past the snooty art-gallery elitism that values some art and not others, and really see everyone’s creativity as valid and welcome, then we should be able to do the same with everyone’s body, and how they inhabit it.

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  • Daniel Solnit says:

    Since we cannot sort out the photographers who are looking on with respectful delight from the predatory / disrespectful ones, and since banning anything at BM is an absolute last resort, I suggest that the CT organizers create a defined “photo-zone” for CT, somewhere in the middle of the course, preferably on either side of a large structure. When the ride reaches the structure, it splits briefly into two streams – one riding through the photo zone, implicitly constenting to be photographed, and the other riding round the other side outside the zone, clearly NOT consenting. The two streams could then re-join and continue on. This would allow riders a choice, and would make it easy for organizers and bystanders to pressure photographers to stay within the photo-zone, and avoid a bunch of legal maneuvering on the part of BMORG etc.

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  • lifeisshort says:

    Wow, not to be disrespectful but…..lighten up…all of you! God Help you all if life throws you a real issue

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  • Critical Anus says:

    Thank you lifeisshort. Perspective is more beautiful than a parade of boobies.

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  • mike says:

    My first burn was in 1999. I arrived from SF with a group of people i had met just 2 weeks prior, with nothing more than a backpack and my camera. The community absorbed me, fed me, sheltered me from the harsh elements.

    The progression of the BM community I have seen over the years, from participative to spectative (are those even real words?) is what may be more of the contributing factor to the overall issue surrounding this particular event (Critical Tits); The arrival of ‘the mainstream’ seems to have diluted the ideals of the burn (imean c’mon… Burning man was featured in Marie Claire magazine recently!!!) More and more I see the few providing for the many, that, with blatant disregard for self-reliance, show up with exactly that intention… the intention to ‘take’ from BM without giving back.

    I am a photographer. Thankfully, my composition rarely deals with the human subject so I tend to encounter the ‘ask first’ request a little less. There are, however, those costumes that are just to perfect for words, or people with such magnetism you feel compelled to capture them. In those moments I personally make the effort to ask. Also, in those moments I whip out my Polaroid and snap a pic for them to have as well. Ever heard of ‘gifting’? It used to happen a lot… last year was a record low for me, after 10 years… I could count on one hand the ‘gifting’ encounters I had.

    The nature of this topic and maybe BM too has little to do with legalese and constitutional rights but more with the rights to be human. Love, respect, tolerance among many other traits/adjectives/adverbs I cannot list.

    Despite what many participants think of their BM event, it is not a perfect world because it contains humans; humans with varying imperfections and ideas of what BM is about. We use the event to ‘shed’ our default lives only to crawl right back into that skin when we leave the playa… anyway, sorry for tangental (i love making new words) nature…

    ~yours in dust

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  • Larry says:

    The best way to solve this problem is to eliminate the source and obvious cause. Critical tits parade needs to be eliminated from Burningman. Then you won’t have all the complaints of the participants of having leering men taking pictures of their breasts. No CT parade…No complaints!

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  • Amigosito says:

    Seems to me it’s about WHO is taking the photo. Back the day, being photographed in latex or nothing at all wasn’t a big deal, because everyone at Burning Man was a BURNER. These days, there are also tens of thousands of People Who Go to Burning Man in addition to the actual Burners, so it’s hard to tell if someone is documenting or just leering.

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  • Jody Bikes says:

    After reading this thread, my only question is “Why aren’t we talking about the Bikes”?

    I suppose I live in an odd paradigm. I work for an Advocacy organization that is working to improve the acceptance of bicycles in Columbus Ohio… a city where it fully legal for women to go topless. The cyclist in our town feel disrespected by vehicles, which is not unfounded in a state with infrastructure designed solely for automobiles in deference to the once thriving auto manufacturing industry. Women can go topless without legal ramifications and many exercise this opportunity at the annual ComFest (Community Festival) event. I’ve also seen more than a few topless women at the Annual Komen Race for the Cure event, some with single, or even double mastectomy. It is moving and powerful and nothing close to a titty show for the fraternity boys.

    I am much more impressed with the ability to motivate all these women to ride bicycles and the joy that comes with it, whether covered or uncovered uptop.
    I went to Burning Man for the first time last year and until reading this post, I did not know about the Critical Tits ride. However, I guess I did my own version of the ride on playa and I also offered my ‘gift’ on the sidelines during the parade of porta-john workers that came thru mid-week. It was my show of gratitude for what was an exceptional porta-john experience after expecting something the level of an Ohio State football game.

    Yes, I showed my 44 year old breasts to whoever happened to be looking when I was riding topless. Yes, I risked having my photo taken without my consent or knowledge. Yes, my image could be posted on some website or even someone’s personal porn library. If I am not willing to accept that, then I should not partake. Funny, I meet plenty of people who cannot wait to move out of Ohio, saying it’s not cool, extreme weather, nothing to do here, no culture, nothing for the young people, no jobs… well, they are right on that one. After reading this thread, I feel fortunate that we are more challenged by encouraging women to bicycle, having already moved beyond the need to shun women for baring their breasts. Ahh, kind of refreshing!

    Eleanor Roosevelt: ‘Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.’

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  • Amber says:

    Major flaw with the arguments against the sentiments of the author in these comments: Assuming any part of a human at a public event becomes public. This is not the case.

    What you menfolk are stating sounds a lot like ‘If you don’t want to be othered, keep them covered.’ It’s a silencing tactic.

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  • jaye says:

    I go topless at BM. I have chosen not to participate in CT.
    In 10 years of attendance, I have had many, many folks ask permission to photograph me, consent depends on ‘vibe’. The ‘frat boy’ mentality at the end of the week has become much more prevalent over the last few years. I work at center camp, after my first shift there in ’04, I realized that I couldn’t go topless in that environment without being photographed without my consent.
    Many, many times over the years I’ve been asked for permission – and when denied, been yelled at(!) by idjits who think they have rights to photograph my breasts.
    I go topless at BM because I can, not as an invitation… and I’ve been photographed many times by respectful professionals, yielding lovely mementos of my time on the playa.
    Personally, I think that CT should be a camera free zone – many camps are self-declared ‘NO Photo Zones’ – why not the parade??

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  • Pinky says:

    I was happy to see this particular subject posted on my first jaunt through the Burning Man Blog. I was a virgin burner in 2008 during my first Critical Tits bike ride. I rode it alone, no one to hold my hand or cheer me on. I had no expectations; therefore, it was not a disappointment. It might be that my perspective on this event is colored by my age and life experience. At the age of 48, bare breasted, I expected to be looked at, hoped to be seen, I felt like yelling out loud, “look at me!”
    Having reached the age of invisibility, the idea that someone would steal a glimpse or artfully sneak a picture seemed both unlikely and delightful at the same time. I have no illusions about my breasts, they are not particularly noteworthy, but they are worthy. They have served me well, I have breastfeed three children, been admired for them, had the weight of them held by the hands that I love. On that day I rode my bike through the streets of Black Rock City, I never once felt like a victim.
    I did not question whether my image would be put on a porn site, or whether I was in some way being disrespected. I felt the freedom and exhilaration of a topless bike ride and the wonderful synergy of all those other women.

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  • i’ll admit that the first time i went to CT i was snapping a lot of pictures in awe until it felt creepy to do so. then my friend and i decided that it was better to cheer and clap instead of ogle. as obvious as it was i had not been made aware that taking pictures could be seen as rude so it was a simple mistake. asking is not an easy solution as the riders go by quickly and when they are grouped together what do you do? yell out for permission and get 20 different responses? “it’s o.k, dont worry, i’ll photoshop you, you, you, and you way over there out!”

    i think most dudes at BM dont want to be creeps at CT and spreading the word about being more respectful during this event would help ignorant spectators and virgins. if there was a “no photos here” understanding much like the clear no MOOP understanding all of us could help regulate it together.

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  • Paul -Indiana says:

    A woman goes topless and objects to the attention she gets. What a surprise!

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  • We need to be very clear here. It is NOT at all the ‘attention’ that we are discussing nor censoring. All of our attention is welcome and included. This is a public ride and a celebration.

    What is disrespectful is the recording of someone’s images without their permission. One can easily bring attention to an activity without a camera. Recording an event through a camera is an extra act and makes the object of one’s focus into an image to be reproduced and used at the takers will wherever and whenever they choose. This is a wholly different presence and activity than participating with your heart and your eyes.

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  • laloca says:

    you know, one thing i’ve never understood about the critical tits ride is how it’s “empowering.” with so many women going topless at burning man (if not totally naked), what’s the big deal about doing it en masse, on bikes?

    note: i’m not saying it can’t be empowering, just that i personally wouldn’t find it so. to me, there’s nothing particularly oppressive about clothing, or empowering about nudity.

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  • Tootie Welker aka Dr. TooTau says:

    These posts have all been very interesting and some have made me rather angry. My question is if we were instead discussing a mass bike ride of women with their shirts on, would there even be a discussion about taking photo’s? My guess is there would be very little interest in watching or photographing it. Which leads me to believe it’s because of the naked breasts, which tells me that those who want to photograph it want to objectify womens’ bodies. That is the point that Louis seems to miss over and over. I think most of the women, Caroline, Lisa, etc all made really valid points about why this ride can be so powerful for women. The purpose of riding in public is for the pubic to “witness” this transformative power, not steal it by taking photo’s. When looking through the camera lens, you are not really “seeing”, which is what this is about.

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  • Dr. TooTau – Thank you for further illuminating the ‘clothed / unclothed’ allure for the camera and ‘hearing’ the importance of witnessing. Such simple things, that get so mired in cultural training and unconscious reactions.

    As we approach the ride, it is enormously grounding for me to reread your comment and many others as well. As one of the women committed to ‘wrangling’ the cameras on the outside of the All Women’s Ritual at the end of the ride (with many many men as volunteers supporting us) I can lose a bit of the excitement just thinking of the numbers of women and men who don’t recognize the transgressions of respect.

    AND there are many who do, and who have even chosen to say ‘yes’ to our invitation to join us and put down their cameras, turn their backs to the women in the center of the Ritual Ring and help us hold space as the ritual unwinds.

    Hearing your voice as we wrap up our preparations, has reminded me to revisit all the others who wrote of respect and possibility. . . and I thank you.

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  • Tootie Welker aka Dr. TooTay says:

    I originally hit the “u” instead of “y”!

    Glad my comment was helpful. I’ve spent past 20 years working on issue of violence
    against women and I see this thread as another symptom of the lack of respect and
    objectification that leads to violence

    I am planning to participate in the ride!

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  • Mike - Los Angeles says:

    Wow. Great discourse! I have already changed my perspective from reading the comments! (Sorry in advance, my english and grammar may not quite keep up.)

    It seems like many people here have wildly different expectations about the rights that they posess or feel that they deserve to posess out at Burning Man.

    First I’d like to highlight the distinction between peoples rights and societal ettiquete. For example, we all have the right to free speech which enables us to participate in an event as amazing as Burning Man. This right also allows me to burp at the dinner table without fear of being arrested but societal ettiquete frowns upon this behavior and I have learned that while I may have the right belch loudly at dinner, I may not wish to because I receive disaproving looks and verbal reprimand from my fellow diners. (My loving mother occasionally included physical reprimand as additional reinforcement.) :)

    Everyone who enters the event has been warned, and chosen to accept the fact that they may have their picture taken out there. Simply by being there you have given a broad form of consent and waived the rights you may have at a “private” event in regard to photography. Because of this I don’t feel like we have the “right” to demand consent from all photographers, nor do any of us have the right to destroy anyone elses property if someone takes a picture without our consent. You wilfully gave up that right when you stepped through the gates.

    Step one: Accept responsibility for the terms you’ve agreed to and recognize that you may have your picture taken. Knowing this you can properly evaluate how you want to behave and present yourself while you’re out there.

    This is not to say that it’s socially acceptable at Burning Man to take pictures of participants without asking their consent. It’s not. The social mores that have evolved at Burning Man very wisely include an “ask first, silence is not consent” policy when it comes to photography. While it is not illegal to take pictures without consent, it is certainly bad manners.

    Step two: Understand that people who violate this social more may not be violating your rights but they ARE behaving innappropriately. Stand up and tell them that our culture does not condone this type of behavior. Some people simply may not know that they’re violating our social contract and others may need a reminder that there are consequences to such behavior, and that they’ll be shunned by the larger society every time they break that social contract. I strongly encourage other men to stand up and make it clear to the creeps how they should behave. The very fact that the “ask first, silence is not consent” mantra is so widely known shows that this is already in the process of being adopted. Let’s step up the good work.

    Personally I’ve taken exactly three pictures of CT over the four years that I’ve been out to the Burn. Two were of my wife and her sister participating in the event because they asked me to, and one was of “the mob” to document the enormity of it. There were several women in the background of the first two shots that I did not get permission from because they were zipping past at the time, and of course I didn’t get permission from every girl in the group shot because it simply wasn’t feasable. Never did I feel creepy taking these pictures however, perhaps because my intention wasn’t to get shots of the boobies but of the girls brave enough to show them. These days I simply leave my camera in my bag and revel in the beauty. Thank you girls, you make my heart beat fast.

    A few notes to the comments above:
    I’m afraid I don’t understand the mini-skirt/she was asking for it/rape comparisons made above. CT is a voluntary event and everyone has the right to participate or not at their own choosing. No one is forcing anyone to do anything.

    I definitely think that moving CT to Tuesday or Wednesday is a good idea to avoid the “frat boy” crowd.

    Finally to be clear, these comments address ONLY the photography without consent issue. None of us gives up our rights regarding sexual assault and I believe that anyone perpetrating this kind of behavior should be punished to the fullest extent of the law, hopefully after they’ve been beaten and drug behind an art car for several hours.

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  • Mike - Los Angeles says:

    I’ve read some of these again and have some more to blab…

    It seems like another big disconnect is the way people view the importance of pictures. It seems that some believe that photos take something from the subject and therefore attach a lot more significance to whether the image is taken or given. I care much less about photos of me so maybe it’s easier for me to accept the cameras out there.

    To eliminate the “gauntlets” the CT team could have teams of riders dedicated to busting them up easy enough. Five or eight teams of two could ride with the parade watching for bottle necks. Two jovial but firm, big personality type people could bellow things like, “Keep it rollin’! Make way for these pretty girls!” and “Ask for permission boys, you won’t make any friends if you don’t” while they push through, create space, and remind the creepers that the best way that boys can participate is by showing their love, appreciation and respect for all the girls in the ride.

    ok. Zippin’ it….

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  • jarle says:

    i have never been to burning man. would have liked to, but being a norwegian living in norway this event is quite a long way away.

    i do, however, have some opinions on some of the aspects being written about in this post and the following replies:

    1) clothed or not clothed: taking a picture of a crowd at such a distance that individuals can not be recognized should generally not require a consent. in the case of an up close photo of a person not “performing for an audience” asking for permission is crucial; yes means yes, no means no.

    2) women wearing short skirts or taking their tops off generally do not signal anything different than when wearing thick winter clothes. understand this, fellow men, and contribute to a better world!

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  • IP Camera says:

    Wow! This really is 1 of the most beneficial blogs I’ve ever occur across on this subject. Merely Amazing

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  • Eric Lahti says:

    As a male and a photographer I would like to express some of my opinions on this subject. First, I think women who choose to participate in CT should be commended for their courage to shed societal restraints in favor of individual expression. Second, I find the female form to be one of the greatest ideals of natural beauty.

    I would like to see 2 parades. One would be for the women who do not want to interact with men and do not want to be photographed. All cameras and spectators would be banned. Perhaps this parade could go to 3:00. The second parade would for women who enjoy the attention and do not mind being photographed. By participating in this parade they are giving their consent. This parade would follow the traditional route along 9:00.

    I do not want CT to be destroyed by the insensitivity of a few frat boys.

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  • Kosho says:

    BM is a private event on public land. Walking down the Esplanade is different from walking down Market St in SF as far as photography and video. If you are topless in a parade on Market Street and someone takes your photo, it may well be published because photos taken in a public place are in the public domain. If a photographer intentionally shows you in an unfavorable way – such as taking the photo when you just happen to be walking in front of a strip club, you may have the right to not have the photo published. Even so, you would probably have a fight on your hands.

    As producers of a private event, the BM organizers have the right to institute rules that govern the behavior of the participants for safety, privacy or whatever reasons they deem necessary. The following is on the Rights and Responsibilities of Media and Participants page on the BM website: “You should ask for permission before photographing or filming any participant.” Perhaps this rule needs to be better publicized. And “should” should be changed to “must.”

    What amazes me is that very few fellow observers, men or women, say anything to all those guys at CT blatantly shooting away without the knowledge or permission of the women. Everyone needs to be responsible for the Playa to be different from any other large event.

    What about shots from afar and/or large groups? – if an you can readily recognize someone in your viewfinder, then you need to get permission before shooting. Before shooting, I routinely wave to get a subject’s attention, then point at my camera and then if the subject nods or generally looks cooperative, fire away. 99% of the time this works fine and is a great way of creating a little moment of connection in what might have been a mere mechanical process.

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  • BOB BROWN says:


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  • I just thought I would let you know that it looks like your RSS feed is not working right.

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  • I agree with Kosho — “You should ask for permission before photographing or filming any participant.” is a little unique of a situation. The entire atmosphere doesn’t truly allow for people to take pictures of be it scantly clothed people (male or female) out in the open, and prior to doing so to ask if it’s OK. The party atmosphere and clothing screams for attention. If it didn’t I imagine people would stay indoors if they didn’t want to be noticed. Just as girls in South Beach go topless expect to be seen in public, so do the girls who where just as little at BM.

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  • “I invite all to consider and pass the word of the personal, civic and human cost of such unconsciousness around photography.”

    not to be a whistle blower but i just watched the BM webcast and lo and behold Critical Tits 2011 was broadcast to the entire world including multiple zoomed in shots where women were clearly seen topless. perhaps the quote above and this post should be shared within BMORG and whomever was in charge of the camera.

    food for thought.

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