Feeling Burned by the Hypocrisy

Picture: Campfire Detail, Somewhere in Oregon

Every year the Burning Man event is held in the Nevada desert. Every year I want to attend. Every year I read their policy and restrictions regarding photography taken on-site. Every year I think, “What a bunch of hypocrites.” Every year, I’ve chosen not to go for that reason.

“Written permission is required to use any image from the event commercially or publicly; no public use of any image may be made without this written consent.”

Finally, the organizers of the event have put out a call for community feedback regarding their oppressive photography policy. Below is a copy of the e-mail I sent:

To whom it may concern:

For many years I have wanted to attend the Burning Man Event in the Nevada desert. The only thing that has ever stopped me has been the far overreaching statement regarding your ownership of any photos taken while at the event.

For an event that prides itself on the representation of a bohemian lifestyle and attitude, your camera policy and terms of restriction regarding the photos used taken at the event seem to be out of sync. The policy, including the wording, sounds so much like large corporation lawyer speak, and business-suited Wall Street executive heavy handedness, has been impossible to reconcile that difference in tone between your policy and the nature of the event.

To put it bluntly, is that difference in tone that smacks of hypocrisy, and has unfortunately kept me from wanting to attend the event where I would specifically want to do creative and editorial photography. I hope you will give due consideration to changing the camera and photography policy, and simply issue an advisory that it is the responsibility of any photographer wishing to sell photos taken at the event to obtain the proper permissions and releases. if you are wishing to protect the symbol of the Burning Man itself as part of your “corporate” identity, you could always add a restriction that any non-editorial commercial use that advertises a product or service must receive prior permission and or license directly from your office.

I think that kind of policy would be a fair representation between your reasonable corporate expectation, and the mindset of the community that you have established.

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration, and if you have any questions are welcome to contact me directly.

If you’d like to send in your own thoughts, please send an e-mail to cameratales@burningman.com




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12 Comments on “Feeling Burned by the Hypocrisy”

  1. Jim Goldstein Says:

    Keep us posted if and when they respond. Great e-mail Gary!

  2. Phil Says:

    Gary, you stated my position exactly. I too have wanted to attend for years, but it would be a total waste of my time to go if I could not do anything meaningful with the images I would make there. As soon as Burning Man frees up the photographic restrictions, I am there. (I sent an email similar to your this morning.)

  3. DhammaSeeker Says:

    Well said!

  4. Richard Wong Says:

    I see plenty of photos from Burning Man on Flickr.

    I would like to go too! If it frees up then we should all go.

  5. Sherri Meyer Says:

    I’ve been – got to go for free in 1999. Would never go again! We prefer to go out there to enjoy the hot springs, explore and photograph to name just a few. Been out there 6-7 times and love it! In fact, we may be going in a couple of weeks!

    Burning Man is all about making money and it is a huge ripoff! You don’t need BM to get to express yourself freely in the Black Rock Desert. Get a group of folks together, set off your own rockets, run around naked, drive 90 MPH, you name it, for free and without 30,000 other people.

    I wrote about the Black Rock Desert several years ago. I will eventually publish it on my Blog. I wrote about all the things you can enjoy out there you can’t enjoy while attending BM.

    But, I will say, if you have a “Burning Desire” to go, then you should. It may be the first & the last time you go!

    As far as marketing images of BM goes…the market is flooded.

    Good luck, make sure you bring a motor home, lot’s of water, sunblock, things to trade, protection for your camera and the list goes on.

    ;-) Sherri

  6. Rebecca Jackrel Says:

    Well said Gary. Thanks for adding your voice!
    -Rebecca

  7. Paul Kalich Says:

    I’ve been to the man several times now pbase.com/pgk...g_man_events and I’ve have attended both as a released signed shooter with tags on my equipment and as just as a participant with no hassle either way. The big thing is VIDEO which they are really trying to control while the regular photographer is being swept in with that mess. (last few years they have even had video production crews shooting on site where they post that they are filming). I’ve even had written model releases one year which were all cool and signed by the people in the shots.

    I also have had discussions with many artists as they were working on their installations and had verbal approval to shoot their works-never have had one say no yet over 4 times at the man.

    If you just follow common curtesy when shooting camps/individuals/mutant vehicles of a thumbs up or down before shooting most people are cool with it.

    One thing that burning man does go after is if you start doing say a commercial print of the Man and then they want compensation for those sales.

    In fact at this years WPPI Convention in Vegas a person submitted a book on the people of Black Rock City and she won a $2,000 prize for it.

    The one poster above talking about the RV and crap is not a burner,she is a person that we call a tourist!

    BTW if you have some really good shots they do like people to submit them to their site, they do give photo credits.

  8. Wil Matthews Says:

    Was the policy always this oppressive, or only since this event jumped the shark?

  9. Paul Kalich Says:

    The policy has been pretty restrictive but really went nuts last year, and I saw more non-tagged pro level cameras shooting last year than in any previous year. The population is now around the 40,000-45,000 range up from the 30,000 stated by a person who had gone years ago and that is bringing in more pro-level shooters or people at least with pro-level gear. I’ve actually have met a couple people shooting for magazines on assignment (had tags and wearing credentials when i saw them) last year and one knew how to protect his gear while the other I gave some good advice too since the conditions can be brutal on even the best sealed cameras.

    I actually saw a girl shooting with a holga that she must have had a half a roll of tape on the body and a couple rolls with her so when she changed film she would retape.

    I always drag along my film Mamyia rig since that can take anything that is thrown at it weather wise and on my digital bodies I will keep my extra bodies in a closed and sealed Pelican Case locked in my vehicle since the dust there is micro fine particles and the winds can kick up to 40+ mph with no advance warning to speak of. We had one white out, couldn’t see 10 ft, on my side of the City that lasted for about 20 minutes last year while on the other side of the City it lasted for almost an hour. Also we had a mudstorm where it rained during a dust storm which is real hell on equipment.

    If you do go bring a bunch of 1 gallon seal lock freezer bags to cover your gear with-you can actually watch the bags turn grey from the sandblasting as the days go on. If you really want to see the fine particles in the air take along a 50,000 watt battery spotlight and shine it into the sky at night-the sky will twinkle from the dust even on the calmest days.

    Also be Up for Sunrises-they can be dull or spectacular- plus it is an interesting scene seeing the people going back to their camps who were out all night partying.

    Dust control water trucks, non-potable water taken from a nearby spring, can be an interesting scene.

    Also you would be suprised on how many older citizens inhabit BRC (Black Rock City).

    But as I stated in my first post the biggest problem with capturing the moment out there are the video cameras and it probably will get worse with all the cell phones that shoot even poor video and the other pocket sized video cameras now.

    Interesting thing happened at one shoot, this lady hands me her camera to shoot what was going to happen ( I was had been shooting at the location for about 20 minutes with my rig), and all of a sudden she went to the MC of the particular event and turned it into a hard R rated even and she kept indicating for me to shoot with her camera. (the gentleman enjoyed it but he didn’t flash anything). Well I bumped into him a couple days later and he asked how he could get copies of the pictures and I told him that he would need to see her since I was using her camera and he was cool with it since he knew her already before the action took place. So no telling what you will run across out there.

    (Also one word of caution if you approach an art installation in the deep playa and it is an enclosure of some type be sure to make some noise as you approach since there may be some people inside getting busy).

  10. PeaceLove Says:

    The Burning Man folks have defended their position quite articulately (they have a former EFF lawyer who helped them create it!) and it basically boils down to this:

    1. Burning Man is a private event. They really don’t want professional commercial photographers and filmmakers (tourists) coming in and filming everything for publication elsewhere. They especially want the ability to put a stop to exploitation by porn producers looking for a mecca of titty shots. So their policy is not hypocritical or intentionally evil in the least; it’s a compromise position that allows them to stop blatant exploitation of the event and its attendees, some of whom might not want images of their naked bodies splashed across porn sites

    2. They encourage all sorts of creativity and won’t stand in the way of anyone who wants to publish artistic photographs or films from the event. They have no intention of using their terms to prevent independent artists from using photos or films however they want, as long as they aren’t exploiting attendees. As long as you’re not exploiting the event or its attendees, the Burning Man folks won’t bother you.

    3. The above notwithstanding, I agree with you about the restrictive terms. So did a lot of others when the debate exploded last year, including the EFF. That is why they are reviewing the policy this year. I hope they can reach a more enlightened position.

    4. Regardless of the stated policy, Burning Man is an extraordinary event, not like anything else anywhere on earth. I highly recommend a visit. No matter what you’ve read about it, seen about it, or heard about it, it isn’t what you think.

  11. Frank Says:

    So you won’t go because you can’t publish and make money from the “spectacular” photos that you plan to shoot? Fine with me. I’ll enjoy the tens of thousands of beautiful photos that people share on the web for free. If you want to take photos there, get permissin of the subjects (hasn’t been a problem for me over the last ten years). If you want to make money from your photos, get permissin of the subjects, including a model release, and get permission from the owners of the event. Compare to doing a shoot on private property. You need permissin of the property owner. In this case the property owner is Burningman Corporation, acting as the agent for the 45,000 Burners that you want to make money off of. If your only going to Burningman so you can “take” photos, just stay home and bitch about that bunch of jerks that are participating in and enjoying an amazing project in the desert.

  12. Jim Goldstein Says:

    Frank you are clearly missing the point. The intention isn’t to exploit attendees, its the ability to have the right to take photographs with out an oppressive overarching restriction.

    “…any image from the event commercially or publicly”.

    Want to share your burning man photos on Flickr… technically not allowed never mind any commercial use.

    On the commercial side let’s say I go with friends who are willing to sign a model release and are the subject of my shoot. Or better yet I want to put out a Blurb book of my Burning Man experience. Technically that cannot be done under the overarching terms one must agree to in order to attend.

    Perhaps if you approach the issue at hand with less of a troll mindset you’d have an opportunity to better understand the issue rather than alienate people trying to raise a valid concern.



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