75 Burning Man Photos That'll Blow Your Mind
Burning Man is so unique that it’s difficult to find the right words to describe it. It's a global culture, a way of living and a thriving city that participants build from scratch every year.
But it's also much more than any of these descriptors suggest. The best way to understand its principles of self-expression, creativity and community — besides attending in person, of course — is to see it depicted in photos or videos.
Even though the 2020 event was canceled, these mindblowing images provide another way to experience the otherworldly beauty and core tenets of this truly singular event.
The central fixture of Burning Man is "The Man" himself, a towering sculpture with a triangular-shaped face that's ceremonially burned at the end of each event.
The first sculpture was built in 1986 by Larry Harvey and Jerry James out of scrap wood, and was torched on Baker Beach in San Francisco.
That inaugural year, the sculpture was 8 feet tall; in more recent years, it's reached nearly 40 feet in height.
The first year the wooden sculpture was set ablaze, about 10 bystanders were present. More than three decades later, how things have changed.
This 2019 image shows "The Man" burning in the distance, with hundreds of cars and thousands of people gathered around it.
In 1990, after four years at Baker Beach, Burning Man organizers were told that their ritual could cause a wildfire. So the group decided to relocate to the Black Rock Desert, northeast of Reno, Nevada. The first year the burgeoning festival was held in the desert, it welcomed 90 attendees.
Aside from a brief stint at nearby Fly Ranch, Black Rock Desert has been the home of the event ever since, setting the scene with its stark and striking backdrop.
These days, the desert welcomes some 80,000 Burning Man participants each year.
The fashion is often created to work in dialogue with the public art.
Burners take their looks to the next level with piercings and creative hair styles.
Spectacular headwear is also a common sight.
In the early 1990s, after Burning Man moved to Black Rock Desert, it also started to adopt more formal infrastructure. One way it did this was by establishing camps for festival-goers to stay in.
Today, many of these camps are interactive and themed, focused on everything from Elvis to bread-baking. This Brazilian-themed camp is called Favela.
An aerial perspective showcases the scope of Distrikt, a music- and arts-focused camp established in 2010.
Since its early days, Burning Man has been focused on establishing traditions — and one of the most important is that of the lamplighters.
In 1993, a small group of volunteers placed about a dozen kerosene lamps on the ground to light the way to "The Man." These days, some 100 lamplighters set out about 1,000 lanterns at each event.
Another longstanding Burning Man tradition: traversing the vast expanses of the desert via bike.
When dust storms strike, as they often do at Burning Man, bikers get lost in the debris.
Art cars — cars designed with elaborate themes — have been a staple of Burning Man since the '90s, and there's even a themed camp specifically devoted to them.
Over time, they've become more and more elaborate. XUZA, the two-level interactive car shown here, has been a fixture at the festival for years.
The Sanctuary art car functions as a moving cathedral.
This art car's theme is appropriately wild and random: an octopus shooting flames.
By the early 2000s, Black Rock City was welcoming so many people, it established its own airport.
Black Rock City Municipal Airport continues to serve attendees today, and remains guided by key Burning Man principles: Those who use the airport must leave no trace and be totally self-reliant. The airport is run by Burners — roughly two weeks before the event, they start setting up control towers, runways and checkpoints.
During the 2009 event, Michael Christian's "Lock and Key," featuring a body made entirely out of locks, braved a winter storm.
The storm was appropriately ominous, as this was a tough year for Burning Man. It was the first time the festival saw a decrease in participation and in the number of art installations created, a result of the Great Recession.
Fortunately, participation rebounded the next year, and has remained strong since.
Each year, Burning Man installations have gotten bigger and bolder. This piece, “Starport,” moved attendees at the 2012 event.
In 2013, another dust storm swept over another Michael Christian sculpture. But this time, the storm wasn't an indicator of trouble.
Quite the opposite, 2013 was the year that Burning Man went from popular to epic, as tickets sold out for the third year in a row and approximately 40 percent of participants attended the event for the first time.
To minimize the number of cars traveling to Burning Man, organizers even had to create a shuttle system, the Burner Express.
In 2014, Burning Man again welcomed record numbers. "Blumen Lumen" debuted this year with a moving interactive touch: The installation's kinetic flowers bloomed when people came near them.
This 2014 image, aptly titled "Burning Bad," took its inspiration from the pop-culture phenom "Breaking Bad," also set in the desolate desert.
Art installations occasionally make return appearances at Burning Man years later. The "Wheels of Zoroaster," featuring hand-cranked wheels that generate sparks and flames as they spin, initially debuted in 2014 and was resurrected for the 2019 event.
Each year, the festival features a centerpiece temple. In 2015, the winning design was The Temple of Promise.
The Burning Man ethos is summed up beautifully in this installation from the 2016 event.
A scene from "Mad Max" or a photo from the 2016 event? Could be either...
This installation from 2016 looked otherworldly.
Pac-Man also made an appearance in 2016.
Even as, in more recent years, Burning Man has started welcoming as many tech execs as artists (much to the chagrin of many), it's always maintained its focus on celebrating the artistic spirit.
At the 2016 event, this blissful installation was a standout.
Participants decked out in elaborate warrior costumes marched toward "The Man" in 2016.
"Tree of Tenere," modeled after one of the most isolated trees on Earth, featured 25,000 LED leaves and was one of the most beloved installations at the 2017 event.
Unfortunately, that year's event was also marked by tragedy; during the burning of "The Man," participant Aaron Joel Mitchell ran into the fire and later died from his injuries.
“The incident shook our community, but the outpouring of sympathy for Joel and his friends and family, and gratitude for the (emergency services) workers who tried to save him, immediately initiated a process of healing,” the Burning Man website stated at the time.
This 2017 image captures two installations working in synchronicity with one another: a temple sculpture viewed through a circular sculpture called "The Portal."
Visual art again takes the form of provocative fashion statement in this look from 2017.
Early on, the event established itself as a platform for bold and daring fashion, a trend that continues today.
The fashion lends itself to creative staged photos.
A seamstress offers alterations and customizations to Burners at her sewing station during the 2017 event.
Fashion and art converge in this shot from 2017.
"The Man" is viewed through a colorful jellyfish portal called "Bloom" in 2017.
Legend has it that every year, Daft Punk secretly plays at Burning Man. The rumor is likely a practical joke, but then again, who knows?
This 2017 image nods to the urban legend, with its flag proclaiming, "We are here for Daft Punk."
This spinning disc of LEDs, called "Paraluna," played classical music at the 2018 Burning Man, marrying design and sound to transcendent effect.
A man kneels down beside "SunScope," a 2018 creation by HYBYCOZO, which designs large-scale installations to "investigate geometric exploration through light, shadow, and perception."
"Identity Awareness - Family" by Shane Pitzer impressed attendees at 2018's Burning Man, while sharing a message of love and community more resonant than ever.
Just a few months before the 2018 event, founder Larry Harvey died at age 70 from a stroke. Harvey remained involved with Burning Man until the very end, serving as board president and chief philosophic officer of Burning Man Project, the nonprofit that helps organize the event and related initiatives.
The 2018 temple was the futuristic "Galaxia," designed to celebrate "the movement uniting us in swirling galaxies of dreams."
Art and science came together to brilliant effect in this 2018 installation, a planet-shaped mirror — scaled to 1/500,000 of the earth’s surface — reflecting the people and art beneath it.
The appropriate Instagram caption for this 2018 image? "At play."
Another shot of Burners at play in 2018.
Also in 2018, a festival-goer wears a cape as he plays a lonely old piano.
Fashion again took center stage during the 2018 event.
Michael Benisty designed this gorgeous celebration of love for the 2019 event.
In 2019, members of the Black Rock Yacht Club swapped bikes for land yachts to explore the desert terrain.
Matthew Schultz designed "The Head Maze" sculpture in 2019 with the aim to tell people "It's OK to feel a little mad in this society."
The 2019 event also featured "The SkyWhale," a life-size flying technicolor whale.
Modeled after a gramophone, this 35-foot-tall sculpture, "La Victrola," played recordings from the early 1900s at the 2019 event. It also doubled as a cabaret stage.
In line with the eco-friendly Burning Man ethos, this 2019 work by Tahoe Mack, "The Monumental Mammoth," was crafted from re-purposed materials.
"Tara Mechani" by Dana Albany, from the 2019 Burning Man, had duel influences: the ancient female Buddha, Tara, and a futuristic female robot.
Burning Man photos don't need installations in them to impress, as this 2019 shot ably proves.
This year's Burning Man featured the spectacular "Temple of Direction," a place for reflection modeled after Japan's Fushimi Inari Shrine.
At the festival's conclusion, the "Temple of Direction" was set ablaze, a fitting end to yet another memorable event.
The 2019 event also showcased Burning Man's trademark bold and daring fashion.
This 2019 butterfly look impressed.
Antlers top off a whimsical outfit in 2019.
What's cooler: The boots, the cape or the headwear? It's impossible to say.
More awesome fashion, more awesome boots.
Another showstopping Burning Man hat from 2019.
Gorgeous fashion, striking backdrop.
Men, too, know how to bring their style A-game to Burning Man.
Another guy, in 2019, with style to spare. (Fun bike, too.)
Practical? No. Fun? You bet.
A dazzling, peacock-inspired fashion statement.
The apt caption for this 2019 shot? "Squad goals." Indeed.
This outfit must've taken a lot of work.
The work paid off.
Is there anything better than a light saber to bring to Burning Man? We think not.
Ok, seriously, Burning Man has the best hats.
Even the shadow has swagger.