The re-opening of Black Rock City after several years away from the dust is just days away. If you’re like me, you’re quietly (or not so quietly) freaking out about how you’re going to make it Home this year. Among the 80,000 lucky souls who are able to join us in person, your main concerns are no longer about tickets but probably how you’re going to finish your art, mutant vehicle or camp.
Unfortunately for too many veterans and virgins alike, the journey to the playa isn’t going to happen this year. You got unlucky in the ticket line, or the playa didn’t provide this time (it never does, by the way), or your best-laid plans got hung up in some other prickly perch. For too many, economics, health concerns, or the realities of international travel will keep you from participating in person this year.
I’m here to tell you to not despair — the Burning Man Webcast team has your back. This year, the Burning Man Webcast returns to the desert to continue the tradition of sharing sights, sounds and stories from a camera mounted on a tower high above Black Rock City.
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(Photos by Motorbikematt)
What is the Burning Man Webcast?
For those of you who have been on the playa, you might be asking: “Wait, there’s a livestream of Black Rock City?” While I applaud you for completely unplugging while participating in Burning Man, the answer is yes, there has been a webcast from the playa since 1996. This year, I’ll be rounding out a decade of personally gifting the webcast from the playa. It all began for me in 2013 when I developed the camera system that live streamed the Man Burn from the Mars Rover Art Car.
How the Webcast Ensures Consent and Respects Privacy
Over the years, some Burners have expressed concerns about cameras broadcasting from the playa. There have been internal conversations about whether, in the spirit of Immediacy, we should even have the Webcast.
After thoughtful reviews and listening to years of participant feedback, it’s clear that respectfully sharing a slice of the playa with the world serves an overall positive purpose. It’s my job to make sure the Webcast stream operates under two strict directives: Ensure the Consent and Respect the Privacy of all participants inside and out of Black Rock CIty. We take these directives seriously and express them both with how we operate the cameras and communicate with people online and in the city.
For example, while we zoom in to share artwork within our field of view, we will NEVER zoom into the city streets where people live. During clearer days, we downgrade the video resolution to reduce the risk of incidental capture of participants’ identities. In the same spirit of Immediacy and out of respect for privacy, the livestream is not recorded nor rebroadcast. With Civic Responsibility and Communal Effort in mind, we work with Burners online to identify and issue takedown notices against instances of our webcast video being recorded and reposted in violation of our copyright and/or a platform’s terms of service.
In short, we take an active stance to safeguard the experience of Black Rock City participants while offering a clear opportunity for Radical Inclusion into the event. We are not here to provide a video tour for you to enjoy cozily from your air conditioned couch, however. We exist to inspire you, help you transcend whatever kept you from the playa, and to enable you to transform yourself into what we like to call a “remote participant.” Remember, there are No Spectators at Burning Man!
What Does it Mean to Cultivate Community as a Remote Participant?
Within these safeguards and intentions in mind, we do encourage derivative works and other creative ways to extend your connection to the global Burning Man community. One of the simplest approaches you can take to joining us is to share your personal Burning Man webcast experience via Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. Just use the hashtag #BMwebcast and you’ll be sure to catch our attention!
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(Illustration by Jonathan Rondeau)
Thanks to the boundless imagination of remote participants over the past decade, we have seen online communities form around the webcast that can help expand your ability to participate. For example, the “largest camp not on Playa,” called Camp Envy, has Facebook and Slack groups that we actively monitor and respond to during Burn Week. You can find us at the Burning Man Virgins and Veterans group for your requests! If Facebook isn’t your thing, consider connecting with the Burners Discord server or of course, Burning Man’s own ePlaya forums.
Because of these communities and more, we have evolved the official Live Webcast from a limited videostream of Black Rock City into a more interactive shared experience. The webcast team not only shares our personal perspectives, but we answer questions online and take (reasonable) requests to connect you with the art, family, and fellow Burners inhabiting the city. We host interviews with interesting citizens and Regional Network leaders. When we can, we’ll work with consenting dusty participants to safely zoom in on them so they can wave back home on the camera! Every year, we set aside a fun time to cordon off a “consent zone” and gather a group of dusty participants to wave, dance, and otherwise interact with remote participants on camera in what we affectionately call the “Playa Video Postcard.”
With the fun, we also provide the heartfelt and serious. One of the most honored and touching (and, at times, emotionally difficult) services we provide has been to enable remote participants to deliver their own messages to the Temple. Each year, we receive innumerable direct messages or tagged social media posts from participants seeking catharsis and release through these message deliveries. Thanks to the pandemic and the two years of canceled Burns, the messages have already started to come in.
If you want the webcast team to deliver your message to the Temple, tag your favorite social media post with #TempleMSG or email the team directly at Webcast+Temple@burningman.org up until noon on Sunday before Temple Burn. Anonymous messages can also be DM’d directly to @motorbikematt on most social media.
What if I’m going to be in BRC and want to Livestream from Burning Man?
Now, some of you reading this have your travel plans in place and might be interested in making your own live video stream from the playa. Nevermind the overwhelming challenges, distraction, and expense of how you would be able to do this, you ought to consider the more important question of why?
Black Rock City is a place where deeply personal, emotional, and life-changing experiences take place minute-by-minute. These experiences are often amplified by the fleeting, ephemeral moments during which they take place. They are also experiences that many people have grown to trust are not being broadcast out to the world. Some participants resonate with and are comfortable at Burning Man because of the implied anonymity the playa affords. Cameras aimed at the faces and bodies of participants before they are able to provide clear and informed consent can destroy trust and their ability to freely express themselves. Considering the growing issues around influencers with cameras flooding Black Rock City, an anonymous webcam would be an unwelcome presence to manyBurners. We ensure everyone has the ability to give feedback directly to Burning Man Project or express their concerns to me directly.
With that in mind, it’s important to remind everyone that Black Rock City is a private event held on public land. Burning Man Project has very clear and established rules that are intended to prevent invasions of privacy, preserve the noncommercial character of our culture, and reduce any unnecessary distractions from the principles of Immediacy and Participation. When you purchase a ticket for entrance into Black Rock City, you aren’t just agreeing to our Terms and Conditions, but you are also expected to help protect everyone’s ability for Radical Self-expression. Read the Media Rights and Responsibilities page for more details.
“In Black Rock City, you don’t have to be getting paid to be a pro. ‘Professional Use Media’ is used to describe pretty much any media project that is intended for public distribution.”
—Media Mecca Rights & responsibilities page
So if you are interested in bringing a video camera, know that Burning Man Project will not authorize video live streaming or any other real-time uplinking of visual media from the playa — leave your webcams at home. Instead, consider how the 10 Principles will help you more fully express yourself, take full advantage of your real-world experience in Black Rock City, and enjoy your time after two years away from Home. Be present out there – it’s a week that goes by quickly. Focus on the dust, and leave the webcasting to us.
And if you can’t make it at all this year, know that wherever you are in the world, you can watch the live-webcast right here.
Cover image: Volunteers dust off the webcam atop the tower (Photo by Robert Bruce Anderson)