Burning together

Burning together


The art installation Pulse & Bloom is seen during the Burning Man 2014 "Caravansary" arts and music festival.

Over 65,000 people from all over the world gathered at the sold out festival to spend a week in the remote desert cut off from much of the outside world to experience art, music and the unique community that develops.


Photographer Jim Urquhart, who has been going to the festival shooting pictures for four years, talks about how this year was a more personal experience.

"When I've come home reeking of body odour and failure she has always asked me what it is like to be here."
Jim Urquhart, Reuters Photographer

For the fourth year in a row I have found myself spending a week in the heat and dust in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada north of Reno surrounded by over 65,000 people attending the Burning Man Festival.

At this point I feel I am starting to get an idea of how to handle myself out here. It is a tough environment to work in. You have to bring in all your supplies to live and work with. This includes all your food and water for a week. Nothing is sold in Burning Man outside of ice and coffee. Your transportation options are pretty limited to mainly foot or bicycle.

In past years I have camped with other photographers but this year I brought along my wife Dayna to share the experience. When I've come home reeking of body odour and failure she has always asked me what it is like to be here. I've shown her photos and tried to explain it but I always feel like my explanations fall short in explaining the whole experience.

She has handled the experience like a pro and was even able to get past the first 24-hour shock in the city, that includes not only being overwhelmed with the sights and sounds and the unusual characters but also getting hit by a biker at night with no lights on.

"I thought it was just a bunch of free-loving hippies doing drugs and alcohol, but it is not," Dayna said.

She later figured out that it was much more. "It’s a week-long celebration and people can be free to express themselves however they choose."

But there was also another, self-serving, purpose to bringing her out. So many times during the course of previous years I have watched intimate partners share in the experience. Be it a kiss or just holding hands as they admire the art. As a photojournalist I spend so much time on the outside watching others and not experiencing the moment for myself. With the addition of Dayna, I was able to dive into the experience and share it with another.

We biked together, we visited with other participants and experienced the art together.

Her favourite part of the festival, was watching people fight in the Thunderdome. "It was just like the movie Mad Max but just more modern dressed people."

I've always heard the stress of Burning Man can destroy a marriage but I figured if we are coming up on five years together we might as well go for it. We had a couple squabbles but nothing compared to some of the blowouts I have seen out here. If anything we have a deeper appreciation for each other after what we have gone through. She now totally understands why I reek and why my gear is dusty for the better part of the year.

Dayna has also now seen how hard it is to work out here.

"It is brutal, you're sweaty, you're riding your bike everywhere with all your heavy gear and you are always dirty," she said.

I knew she made it over ‘the hump’ the night the Man burned. I took off to make some feature photos and when I returned to our meeting place I found her dancing with strangers in desert. I think she will get the hang of this.

I am already making plans to return next year to do it all over again. Once you've been here and witnessed this story and participated in the community - the alkaline desert gets in your blood.