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.
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.
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