Don’t be That Asshole with a Camera

Folks who want to do any sort of serious project with a camera in Black Rock City have to apply through our Media Project Proposal Form. I’ve been a leader on the press team for a few years now, and I’ve heard all of the objections to the idea that Burning Man even needs a media policy at all. Who do we think we are, asking people to tag their cameras and telling them what they can and cannot post on social media? How dare we!

The reason is actually pretty simple. It’s about consent. Going to Burning Man isn’t agreeing to be somebody’s art model. Photographers and subjects should be agreeing to create something together. Our media policy exists to make sure all the feelings stay mutual.

Ultimately, the policy values a Burner’s act of radical self-expression and willingness to do something daring in the moment a lot more than a bystander’s ability to share a photo of it with his friends, let alone sell it to newspapers. This is not to denigrate photography. I love photography. Some of my best friends are photographers. The photos people take at Burning Man have changed humanity’s visual imagination forever. That’s one of the most profound gifts our community has to give, and it’s thanks to many incredible photographers.

We value that. How can we not? But this act of giving comes with some responsibilities: First, photos and videos must be consensual — an image of someone must truly be a gift, rather than a stolen moment. Second, media created in Black Rock City must respect our principle of Decommodification. Our media policy exists to protect the culture from exploitation through branding and marketing that leverages Burning Man, its art, and its participants.

John Curley (not an asshole)
John Curley, an amazing Burning Man photographer, dear friend, and totally not an asshole.

Balancing Immediacy and Artistry, Secrets and Storytelling

It’s a line we’re trying to walk. A balancing act.

Over the years, we’ve learned that the vast majority of experiences Burners have with other Burners are fine. There’s no need to police Burners just trying to share their photos with their friends online. It’s just not a problem.

So we’ve stopped asking Burners just snapping memories for personal use to register their cameras and worry about following procedures. We just ask them to be considerate. Be thoughtful. Don’t be an asshole. And for the most part, they live up to it. We just don’t hear too many complaints.

But we do get complaints about The Media™. Before, during, and after Burning Man. That definitely happens. So we put systems in place.

What are those systems? This is how it works.

If you’re only planning to share your photos with friends and family — and you’re not a social media star — you don’t need to worry about our media policies. Just be a mensch. And if, by accident, you end up taking a picture that hurts somebody’s life, and they (or we) reach out to you about it? Work with us on making it right.

If you are a member of the media (or a social media star), or you want to shoot a documentary or anything like that, you need to register with us. Fill out the form, tell us about your project, and then we’ll talk a little about what you’re doing and how you want it to work, and how we can help you.

Sometimes we have to say “no” to projects. There can be a lot of reasons why. We just don’t believe that Girls Gone Wild is going to come to Burning Man in good faith. At no point will we think it’s a good idea to use Burning Man images to peddle overpriced champagne. Other times there are just too many media applications, and we don’t want Burners to have to walk through a gauntlet of video cameras every time they go to the porta-potties.

Even non-pros need to be respectful.
Even non-pros need to be respectful and ask before photographing people. (Duh.)

How It Works in Black Rock City

If we agree to work with you on your project, we’ll help you find the people you’re looking for, get you up close to the art you want to see, introduce you to the artists — we want to be helpful.

But you’ll also have to sign contracts, and come in and get all your cameras tagged — without exception — before you start to shoot in Black Rock City. And you need to know that if somebody asks you not to take their picture, you must not take their picture.

Why? Because, seriously, we get complaints. We get complaints about media being pushy and entitled. When that happens, it’s good to know that the people involved can be identified by the numbers on their cameras. It means we get the right people and don’t have to punish everybody in the press for the sins of a couple knucklehead documentarians. (Oooooh, you want to blow the lid off sex and spirituality at Burning Man? How original.)

It’s not a perfect system, but Burning Man never promises to be perfect. We’re just trying to keep things interesting, worthwhile, and most of all respectful.

If you are a member of the press, the time to register is now — seriously, the earlier the better — and we’ll try our hardest to help you find what you’re looking for in the world’s largest temporary city.

If you aren’t a pro, just be conscientious and communicative. Read up on how not to be a creeper with a camera. Remember – it is your task to ask! Really that’s all it takes.

And if you see someone with tagged cameras — a member of the press — being a asshole? Get their number and report them to the Rangers or to Media Mecca.

All photos by the amazing Zipporah Lomax

About the author: Zac Cirivello

Zac Cirivello

Zac has been managing teams in Black Rock City since 2010. He spent three years as a part of Burning Man’s Communications team developing the organization’s voice as a nonprofit and driving strategy behind key communications initiatives. He studied Environmental Science and spent a decade producing events and festivals focused on arts, community development, sustainability, and food. As Operations Manager for Fly Ranch, Zac oversees communications, community engagement, affiliations and site operations for the project.

18 Comments on “Don’t be That Asshole with a Camera

  • The Hustler says:

    I think about 70% of the people who come into Media Mecca ask about the policies. Most of the time I send them off to do their rad shit after my first question:

    “What are you shooting/filming/doing?”

    It’s normally a variation of personal use/friends and family.

    There is a lot of misinformation about the media policies (Burning Man is stealing copyright, man! Chemtrails!) so it’s good to try to beat it into people’s heads early. One year the mighty NPPA even had a wildly inaccurate blog post about Burning Man’s media policies.

    Once we get past that, we have to address the myth that Media Mecca has wifi. I/we get almost as many questions from really pushy people asking about wifi, it’s always an “emergency,” and they often think if they’re rude, we’ll suddenly remember we have blazing fast Internet (and pizza ovens).

    I like to tell people to read the back of their ticket: they may die at Burning Man and someone may take their picture.

    (Maybe that should be on a t-shirt)

    Report comment

  • jigga whaaaaa says:

    Social Media star?? HA! Isn’t everyone a social media star?

    Report comment

  • just saying says:

    How can you give consent when the BurningMan web cam is broadcasting live to the world :-)

    Report comment

  • I Don't Have A Playa Name says:

    On the flipside, I came in as media a few years ago, and have been back every year since.

    Now I feel the need to build a wood-fired pizza oven for some strange reason.

    Report comment

  • Apple Pie Guy says:

    Is that buzz from the drone a premision request? I said no but you still buzz around my head… Guess next week I am on YouTube with some pirated EDM music in the background.

    Forget hippie fishing time to move on to drone sniping.

    Report comment

    • Just some Ranger says:

      Drones should all be tagged. If you see one operating over a crowd or where you don’t think it should be, find a Black Rock Ranger (or even better, the drone operator) and explain that a drone is operating near you and you don’t feel comfortable with that and don’t give permission to be photographed.

      Remember, consent is a necessary part of any interaction at Burning Man.

      Burning Man does allow some drone operators permission to use these devices, but not over crowds.

      Report comment

  • Graham says:

    Do an image search of Burning Man and you’ll realize that most of the photos of people on the playa are being taken with consent–the subject is posing for the camera. The policy of policing people with cameras has worked so well that it has encouraged photography tuned perfectly for social media platforms.

    Selfie: A photo that is usually flattering and made to appear casual.

    However, Burning Man is not meant to be lived vicariously. The truth of Burning Man can only be found out on the playa. And the stewards of that experience are trying to protect it, even if it means discouraging a type of photography that attempts to capture it’s honesty.

    National Press Photographers Association
    -Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.
    -Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.
    -While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.

    Report comment

  • Liam Hosier says:

    Thank you Zac and the rest of the Burning Man media team for this wonderful article. :) <3

    Keep up the great work !

    From the Freezer Burn Media Team.

    Report comment

  • Michelelebelle says:

    I saw a creep taking pics of me as I showered. I felt violated bc I didn’t consent. After I screamed for him to stop, he’s linked away laughing. I wish I had my pellet gun or my 38 caliber at that moment just to scare the sheet out f the lil creep!

    Report comment

  • G says:

    Just two little stories.
    I was standing by the man’s ashes on Sunday morning a few years back having a chat with some friendly stranger when a big furry microphone imposed itself between the two of us from behind. It stops our conversation cold. Whoever it was then asked us if the footage he had just taken could be used [for whatever his project was] and would we sign a release? The guy I was talking with said OK. I refused because it was done without prior permission and it was just plain uninvited intrusiveness.

    I was in center camp taking the whole scene in sitting crosslegged on a pedestal. Nearby me was a man massaging a woman on a massage table. She had only a string bikini bottom on. Some guy with a ton of cameras walks up to me and asks me(?) if it’s OK for him to film the masseur and the lady. Of course I looked him directly in his eyes and said “why don’t you ask them?” He did in fact the massage guy and the lady gave him permission. He took a ton of pictures and began getting close and taking some rather intimate perspectives at which point the masseur told him to stop. I for one would not have given him permission in the first place, particularly since his clothing and his demeanor screamed Defaultia !

    Report comment

  • digitalmorgan says:

    I agree that ‘assholes’ can be even more assholish with camera in hand, but I strongly disagree with the stereotyping of anyone with a camera being an asshole!

    1. As stated, a single person or small group turning towards a camera and posing for the shot does imply consent. No posing; then you’ve got a dif situation.

    2. If *I* choose to sacrifice a DLSR to the Dust Gods, that’s my business.. the fact that everyone is walking around with a fucking smart-phone on a stick doesn’t make their shooting ethics any less accountable.

    3, Don’t be a dick and impose your ‘NO CONSENT’ to a shot you’re not even in…

    Report comment

  • Victoria Rose says:

    O.K., so we’re over at naked bacon enjoying the morning no problems until late in the week when it’s creeper with camera day and this guy is walking by shooting everyone with his camera making a video or some such crap…no consent. I did get in his face about it…he was a giggler…I had to just walk away. He was the third guy with a camera and no consent THAT morning.

    Report comment

  • Comments are closed.