3 Things: The Collected Wisdom of Burners at Burning Man 2013


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3 Things: The Collected Wisdom of Burners at Burning Man 2013

Imagine that I handed you a microphone; when you speak into it, the whole world can understand and hear you at the same time.  You can make 3 statements. What would you say?

I posed this question to people I met at Burning Man 2013. Here are their answers:


_DSC2620 _DSC3723 _DSC3702 _DSC3327 _DSC3315 _DSC3296 _DSC3251 _DSC3101 _DSC3085 _DSC3040 _DSC3032 _DSC3018 _DSC3007 _DSC2927 _DSC2894 _DSC2879 _DSC2873 _DSC2674 _DSC2659 _DSC2642 _DSC2637 _DSC2632 _DSC2629 _DSC2624 _DSC2615 _DSC2322 _DSC2317

 P.S. Check out more photos, videos, and some essay-ish writing about Burning Man 2013, my virgin year on the playa. Click here to check it all out.



Burning Man 2013

A few years ago I learned about this thing called “Burning Man”. I watched videos on YouTube, gazed over countless photo galleries, read  articles at BurningMan.com …  At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I felt called to it. I knew that I had to go. Burning Man 2011 came and went. Burning Man 2012 came and went. The stars finally aligned in the form of two dear friends, Alison Rogers and Glen Sampson. They went to great lengths to help prepare me for the burn, from introducing me to people I’d meet on the Playa to lending me some camping gear, to giving me lists of things I would need to survive for a week in the desert.   Their assistance was invaluable – without their mentoring, my first trip to Burning Man would have been fraught with dilemmas.  If you are thinking of going to Burning Man – you MUST find someone to help you prepare.

I debated a lot over whether I would shoot photos out there or not. Part of me wanted to shoot like a mad man, as I knew the Playa (the term used for the ancient lake bed desert floor that Burning Man occurs on) would be a visual playground. Another part of me wanted to just leave the camera at home and only experience BM through my eyes and other senses.  One of the pitfalls of being a photographer is the strong temptation to experience life through a lens, rather than through your own bodily senses.  I decided to be cognisant of this potential issue and simply allow myself to do whatever I felt like. That amounted to carrying my camera in a backpack about 75% of the time.  I promised myself that I wouldn’t shoot much – that I’d spend my time EXPERIENCING – after all, two of the 10 Principles of Burning Man  are PARTICIPATION ( Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.)  and IMMEDIACY ( Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.)

As a photographer, NOT interacting with my environment photographically would be, in a sense, depriving myself of some level of participation and immediacy.

I arrived in the Reno area around 5pm on Sunday 25 August. The Black Rock Desert – home of Burning Man – is less than 100 miles from the I-80 exit. Sounds pretty painless, given that the drive to Reno is pretty easy.

These 97 miles took from 6pm until 3 am to complete. The migration of 68,000 people along a 2 lane road is no small feat:


Traffic stretched along highway 447 for as far as the eye could see. It was common for the traffic to be stopped for 30 min at a time. People would shut off their vehicles, get out, hula hoop, walk around, meet the “neighbors”, and find ways to pass the time.

I finally reached the entry gate around 2:30 am. Something very interesting happens when you enter Black Rock City.  They have a welcoming committee: You get out of your car. Someone from the Burning Man organization approaches you, gives you a HUGE hug, and says, “Welcome home!!”  I was only mildly amused by this, given my sleep deprived state. It would be a day or two before I started to appreciate what that meant – and now that I’m “home” in the ‘real world’ (or “default world”, as burners call it), the “welcome home” greeting means worlds more.  For first time burners, aka virgins, they then have you get down in the dirt and make a “snow angel”.  Burning Man occurs on an ancient alkali lake bed. Imagine a desert floor, but instead of sand, it has chalk dust.  A snow angel in chalk dust dirt… I was even less amused at this, but I wasn’t about to begin my Burning Man experience by saying “no” to something. I was committed to being a participant.  So, I got dirty, received my “What, When, Where” guide book, and drove toward my camp site.

I finally reached camp at 3:00 am Monday morning. I parked my car, put on a coat (it can get cold at night in the desert), hopped on my bike, and embarked on my first exploration of Burning Man.  What ensued was a week that is difficult to communicate entirely.   Burning Man is truly like the “zero point field”. It is vast in breadth and depth, both geographically, sociologically, psychologically, spiritually. People from all over the world make the pilgrimage here to experience something that is so profound, it is worth the incredible expense of time, energy, and resource to arrive.  When you are on the Playa in such an incredible assemblage of people, anything can happen.

First a word about The Man and other effigies…  Each year, there are two main effigies built on the Playa by the central Burning Man organization: The Man, and The Temple. Each year a different architect is commissioned to design and build these magnificent structures. At the conclusion of the week, they are both burned.  Burning works of art is part of the Burning Man experience.  It’s a demonstration in immediacy: the present is all you’ve got. Hanging on to the past or the future is a lie and a waste of time. The slice in life in front of you right now is subject to disappearing at some point:  your cat, your job, your significant other, your house, your vacation, and… the artwork at Burning Man. Drink it up. Immediately.


The UFO section of the man is enormous. There are stairs leading up into the base of The Man. Inside of it are 3 floors.  The man itself reaches  140 feet high. In the center shaft of the structure is a piece of meteorite that impacted the Earth in the 1500’s.


The meteorite chunk would be left in The Man for the burn. Whoever finds the meteorite in the ashes after the burn gets to keep it as a “playa gift”.  Gifting is a central tenet of Burning Man.

Burning Man is not just a destination in the middle of the north Nevada desert, but a mentality – even a way of life. To that end, Burning Man encourages the development of regional organizations to create art and events on a smaller scale, both to make the Burning Man experience more available to more people,  and to keep the spirit of Burning Man alive throughout the year.  The regional organizations are invited to apply for the opportunity to crreate art that will be displayed and then burned near the man at the annual Burning Man at Black Rock City.  The Utah team created a piece giving homage to Arches National Park and called it Psychadelicate Arch.


Psychadelicate Arch, Utah C.O.R.E. project. Burning Man 2013

Members of the Utah C.O.R.E. (Circle Of Regional Effigies) stand atop Psychadelicate Arch.


Psychadelicate Arch  at night.


Psychadelicate arch burns.

Burning Man is not just a local or regional phenomenon; it is a truly international community and event.  The Russian camp created an incredible effigy, “The Cradle Of Mir”:


_DSC2980You never know what you’ll find cropping up out of the playa at night. 


The Idaho C.O.R.E.  (Circle Of Regional Effigies) project.


Burning Man is a caucophany of the sacred and the profane, each given equal importance on the stage of the mind and heart. Want to commemorate the death of a loved one?  Got it.  Want to learn how to turn your genitals into stamp art? Got it. Want to take tango lessons? Got it. Want to walk around naked all week? Got it.  Dress like cookie monster? Got it. Want to go to the TED Talks and rub shoulders with some of the most progressive thinkers on the planet while dressed like Cookie Monster? Got it.  The pure, whole humanity of the experience is hard to fully describe – it’s like trying to explain the color blue to someone who has been blind from birth.  One afternoon I went out into the deep Playa to explore some of the art installations that were far removed from the center of the city.   I found an effigy dedicated to those who have lost a loved one to suicide:


On the mummy that hung from the noose, were written messages from mourners:






The loneliness and sadness of this particular effigy, contrasted against the bleak landscape of the Black Rock Desert, made for a subject I couldn’t adequately describe with just one photograph.


A man and woman sob and embrace after writing a message on the effigy.


Here’s the thing about Burning Man:  it’s solemnity is matched only by it’s love of absurdity and play, tough  potties are no joke: it’s absolutely forbidden to relieve yourself anywhere but at the porta potties.


Graffiti on the inside wall of a porta potty.

Burning Man is not just a bunch of seriousness – whatever you want to find and experience, you will find it.  A couple of my buddies…


decided to get married…




….go to the honeymoon suite…


…and then get divorced 11 minutes later, courtesy of the Reno C.O.R.E. project.




An enormously long string of balloons stretch up into the sky. At night, they were each illuminated internally with LED lights.  They stretched far higher than what my camera’s frame would capture.

Art cars are a huge part of Burning Man culture. These are vehicles of any shape and size that have been modified to look and function in a novel way.  As I was returning to camp from seeing the hangman’s noose effigy, I heard some amazing music playing.  I followed my ears and found a huge dragon with a dance floor on the roof of it. All vehicles are restricted to a speed limit of 5 mph on the Playa – so it was easy to ride up to the dragon on wheels and listen to the music as it drove along. Soon other people on bikes were doing the same. We looked like a school of fish swimming alongside a whale.  Soon the dragon stopped next to The Temple.  We parked our bikes, and people just seemed to appear out of nowhere, coming into the light from the dark playa, to form an spontaneous dance party. 


 The music was absolutely beautiful – I’m not good at describing electronic music, but it seemed to be a trance  / house fusion along with some incredible violin playing. I went up into the art car, onto the roof toward the DJ booth, to find that there was a live violinist performing!  Think Lindsey Stirling, minus the stupid dancing and with music that is actually super awesome.  This is the kind of thing that only happens on TV or in movies – and yet, here I was, in this incredibly picturesque environment, bathed in these amazing sounds, surrounded by beautiful smiling people dancing, sandwiched between a dragon on wheels and the sacred Temple.  I honestly wondered for a moment if I had died and arrived in heaven.


The Mayan Warrior was another one of my favorite destinations. This art car is a rebuilt tour bus. The mask of the warrior was painted by famed painter Alex Grey (some of you may recognize his work on Tool albums such as 10,000 days).  This art car had a habbit of playing the most amazing house music. I spent many hours, several nights, dancing to the hypnotic super groovy music from their featured DJs.  The Mayan Warrior came all the way up from Mexico.


Though some art cars are moving dance clubs with sound systems that would put many rock concerts to shame,  some cars were just awesome to look at.



A camp from San Francisco built a skate park.  It was a large bowl in the shape of a heart. I brought my board and spent a few hours riding.  I was the shittiest skater there, but I still had tons of fun.


If you are going to teeter totter, why not do it all the way? 



Warning signs are both hilarious and right to the point at Burning Man.


One camp put on a “flame thrower arcade”, complete with flame thrower shooting gallery, flame thrower ski ball, and quite possibly the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen…


Flame Thrower Dance Dance Revolution. Each player donned a flameproof suit. It’s slightly hard to see, but there are 3 flame throwers aimed at the face of each player. When you mess up, you get blasted in the face.  No joke.    And remember kids… 20130828_185735

I cannot tell you how many insanely dangerous things happen out here every minute of every day. It’s a testament to the human survival instinct that, in a city of 68,000 intoxicated people playing with fire, climbing on things, riding on questionably safe vehicles… nobody dies.


Just taking some precautions, you never know what a night on the playa will bring. 3:45 and C is the address I was camped at.

There were some incredible dance clubs that were created on the Esplanade (the ‘main drag’ on the Playa).  At night, I would typically just ride out by myself and let my ears and eyes guide me. As soon as I saw or heard something I liked, I’d ride toward it like a moth toward flame, without a care in the world.  I always found myself in the middle of some truly breathtaking circumstances.

One night I was wandering around, just following my ears to find music that I loved, and I ended up in the Sacred Spaces Village. I walked in and danced my ass off for quite some time. I was absolutely entranced by the music.  The DJ’s set came to an end, and as he made his exit, he said his name. Emanicipator!  This is one of my favorite electronic artists, and I had no idea that he was performing there.  Incredibly delightful, serendipitous things like this happen all the time on the Playa. Some call it “playa magic”.  Though this isn’t his set, this is a short video that might give you a bit of a taste of what Sacred Spaces Village looked like:


A theme camp for people fighting Alzheimer’s Disease.  (okay, maybe not).


Burning Man is full of educational opportunities…


Including TED Talks.  I spent the better part of a day at the TEDx Black Rock City conference. Here’s a photo of Dadara on stage.


A camp from Washington D.C. put on a comedy / improv class, which I attended.  Super fun stuff.


Going into Center Camp was a reminder that this was not just a huge camp out: This is an actual, functioning CITY, complete with a public works department, emergency personnel, etc.  Center camp serves as a town square, of sorts. You can buy ice and coffee here (and that is ALL you can buy on the Playa. Otherwise, there is no commerce).  There are several performance stages inside the massive tent at Center Camp.  There are sofas, pillows, art installations, bands playing, people doing yoga, etc.  In a sense, it felt like walking into the cantina from Star Wars IV when Luke and Han meet Greedo (except there are nothing but good vibes at Center Camp).


El Pulpo Mechanico, a giant steampunk flame throwing octopus.


Video of El Pulpo in action:


This art installation was of an skeleton of some ancient aquatic creature. The skeleton is segmented and attaached to ropes and pulleys so that you can make it “swim”. Between the blue light bathing it, the canopy flowing in the breeze, and the motion given to it by participating burners, this creature really did appear to be a swimming ghost of some extinct creature, brought back to life just for Burning Man.



The photo does not depict it, but these flaming globes are spinning.  This piece of fire art kept eliciting thoughts of “the tree of life” and “cherubim and a flaming sword”.  If that doesn’t make any sense, go ask one of your active Mormon friends about it.


The DiscoFish, another awesome art car / mobile dance party.


“I can tell you exactly what it is”, said no burner, ever, abut this thing.



A couple enjoys a cozy chat in the middle of a dust storm on the Playa.


…aaand then there’s the woman.


Truth is Beauty sculpture created by Marco Cochrane. I could not get enough of gazing at this magnificent form.




Video of “Truth is Beauty”:


I liked this.  #worstpunever  Check out the website for the Like 4 Real project: http://like4real.com


Why do you walk around on the playa dressed like Little Miss Sunshine at 6am?  Because you can.


A daytime view down one of the main roads leading toward The Man.

_DSC2688Burning Man welcomes all ages. From young kids…



To middle aged kids…


…to old kids.






Burning Man has a gift culture (It’s one of the 10 Principles of Burning Man)  It is customary for people to bring something they can gift to people they meet on the Playa. One of the guys I camped with, Marc, made the “pickleback” his playa gift. The pickleback consists of a shot of whiskey and a shot of pickle juice.  He brought countless jars of homemade pickles – pickled tomatoes, pickled carots, pickled squash, pickled cucumbers in many styles – to share with people on the playa. He would ride around with this box fixed on his bike and offer the pickleback to as many strangers as he could. He served literally hundreds of them during the week.   I had my pickleback pickle popped this week.  It sounds funky, but a shot of whiskey and a really good pickle actually go together really well.


The man during the day – still an impressive, imposing structure.


Some art is meant to be climbed on.


 At the end of the week, on Saturday night prior to Labor Day, The Man BURNS!


I love watching things burn, I love fireworks, yes, of course… blah blah blah. I experienced something on the night of the burn that I have never before seen or felt.   In preparation for the burning of the man, essentially the entire population of Black Rock City gathered around it in a massive circle.  Within this circle were about a dozen different troupes of fire dancers – or “fire enclaves”, as they are called in the Burning Man world. Each enclave represents a different region of Burners. For instance, Utah has it’s own enclave.  Each enclave dressed and danced differently. It reminded me of watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics, with each nation having people on the field representing them in a massive performance piece.  Lastly, the various art cars – and there had to be hundreds of them – pulled up around the outside perimeter of this gathering and formed a wall of throbbing sound – it wasn’t coordinated, they were each playing their own music for their own crowds.  The cheering, the fire dancing, the drumming, and the throbbing dance music from the art cars gave the desert a pulse. that you could feel and couldn’t keep out of your ears or guts. The air was ELECTRIC with anticipation and the common positive energy of nearly 70,000 people.  It was tribal. There was something primal and yet futuristic about this moment. I looked around in amazement and realized that this is what my ancestors did.  Insofar as I’m a reincarnated being….  I’ve done this before.  I felt a strange and wonderful sense of reconnection to a part of my human nature that I’ve not  had the opportunity to experience before in this incarnation.

Video of the fire dancers:

Finally, after incredible amounts of anticipation, the playa erupts in fireworks.






The fire is so hot, it creates a series of mini cyclones that emanate from the fire and toward the audience. Here, we see 2 obviously formed funnels and a third is about to emerge from the blaze. _DSC3662

man burn panorama1

I spent a lot of time at The Temple. The first night I arrived, at 3 am, I rode my bike out to see it.  Each year the temple looks different and has a different name, this year, it is called The Temple Of Whollyness.


Since 2001, The Temple has been a key feature of Burning Man. This year’s temple was designed by Gregg Fleishman.  The Temple building team’s official website explains this year’s design:

[quote ]The Temple of Whollyness will offer Burning Man participants an opportunity to ponder how to become more whole with themselves and the world. An epic central pyramid with an 87’ x 87’ base and 64’ tall, it will be designed with sacred mathematical proportions and constructed using our innovative building techniques. Unbelievably, this majestic Temple will be crafted completely out of geometric interlocking wood pieces that fit together without the use of nails, glue or metal fasteners. The Temple’s name is derived from the idea that spirituality is a balance between three states of mind – to be holy, holey or wholly present. We hope our Temple will be a safe haven for participants to wholeheartedly reflect upon how to live their lives in their divine power rather than letting their polarizing beliefs and the inevitable chasms – the holes in their hearts – lead them astray from joy. [/quote]

A tradition of the temple is to allow people to write messages on the walls of The Temple. Many of these messages are directed toward loved ones who have died. Some are messages to the living, some to one’s self.  The Temple offers a place for contemplation, meditiation, prayer, and reconciliation.  Having been born and raised Mormon, I have grown up in a culture that places utmost value on Temple building and Temple worship. I’ve been to LDS (Mormon) Temples countless times and participated in all of the ceremonies and rites that it has to offer.   I knew that the Burning Man Temple would be impressive, but I was not prepared for what I actually experienced.

temple exterior panorama 2

When you enter an LDS Temple, you are asked to be reverent. Upon entering The Temple at Burning Man, I could not help but be reverent. As I crossed the threshold into The Temple, I was nearly overwhelmed with a sense of the sacred. There was a presence in that Temple that I have only ever experienced before in very small degrees.  For my Mormon friends, I want you to imagine being in the Celestial Room of The Temple and then multiply that feeling by 100.  That is a crude approximation of what I experienced.

As I walked around and read the many messages left on the walls of The Temple and felt the spirit of that space, I was overwhelmed with  the realization that people are trying so hard to do what  is right. People are longing for peace, and my heart broke and went out to them all.  My heart was overcome with compassion, clarity, reverence, and peace.  I contemplated my own struggles and wrote messages on the walls to key people in my life – some of whom are not with us anymore and some who still are.   The presence I experienced there was both heart rending, healing, and ennobling, all at the same time. It was impossible to resist tears for more than a few minutes there.   During the course of the week, I spent a lot of time at The Temple. One evening, after having chased the most amazing music all around the Playa, dancing to music that made me feel like I was in a movie – I made my way to The Temple and slept there until morning along with a few dozen other seekers.

temple interior panorama

Again, from the Temple Builder’s website:

[quote]At the axis mundi of the Temple there will be 12 ‘x 12’ Inuksuk altar. “Inuksuk is an Inuit word meaning image of a person’s spirit, often used as navigation aids. These structures are composed of stacked rocks in a human form.  Their traditional meaning is ‘you are on the right path.’” The statue will be fabricated out of black igneous basalt stone. For thousands of years, the Black Rock that our city is named after was a welcome sight for weary travelers crossing the arid desert and was a key landmark for settlers on the Emigrant Trail. Our black rock focal point in the Temple will ground the Temple space and also act as a guidepost for those looking for the right direction and a safe passage through this life. [/quote]














The Temple held a particularly deep significance for me this year. Later in the week, my friend Ben and I were able to place the ashes of our recently passed friend Jason on the altar of The Temple prior to it’s burning.


The last time I saw Jason was when I dropped him off at the airport to travel back to West Virginia to stay with his family.  His passing was tragic, unexpected, and 50 years too early. I’ve been struggling to cope with his passing;  it’s hard to describe how it felt to hold that container of his ashes in my hands. Placing them on the altar of The Temple to be consumed with all of the other sentiments, sacrifices, and prayers of my fellow burners was my own little sacred experience.


I am deeply grateful to Ben for bringing Jason out there, finding me on the Playa, and facilitating this otherworldly reunion between three old friends.

On Sunday Night, the final night of Burning Man, The Temple was burned.


The Temple awaits its sad and joyous fate. The burning of The Temple, with all of the writings and memoirs places inside and on the altar, will create a profound emotional release for thousands of people who have confided in it this week.  It is darkened on the inside, illuminated only by the flames of those who are about to set fire to it.



The crowd sits in nearly perfect silence as The Temple is humbled before us.


As the walls of The Temple collapse into a smoldering pile of embers, we are reminded of the ephemeral nature of all things – and the importance of fully experiencing that which is presently before us, as all things will pass.  The burning of The Man and The Temple evoke sentiments of the legend of The Phoenix – a knowledge that ends are not ends, but part of a cycle of new beginnings.  I felt an intense array of sadness, release, and brilliant renewal as I watched these effigies burn.

See video of the Temple Burn here:

It’s difficult to summarize what Burning Man meant to me.  The first night I went out on the Esplanade, I was humbled to see all of the art that had been created with such care, at such a large scale, transported at such expense, all to be burned within a few days.  I spend so much time thinking about ways to make my art and experiences permanent…  it was humbling to see this entirely different way of looking at things.  If one were to get excessively hung up on the fact that these pieces of art would not exist in a few days, it would be impossible to fully, exuberantly enjoy them now.   It made me realize how many opportunities for joy I have short circuited just because I know they will some day fade.  For years I’ve had the attitude of “If I can see the end from the beginning, I don’t even want to start”.  Burning Man challenged me to accept opportunities and fully live them, even if I know from the outset that they will end – and maybe even with some tears. There’s a lot of love that I’ve let slide through my fingers because of this. I’ve allowed this aversion to loss to cheat me out of a lot of good love and life.

I found myself longing to share the experience with someone. Sure,  I was there, I saw it all, but there is something about sharing that makes an experience even more rich.    I’ve done my best to show you some of the beauty of Burning Man via photos, video and words – but ultimately – you had to be there.  I watched many couples around me enjoy the richness of sharing transcendent experiences together.  I want that.  I want to have a brilliant relationship with a woman that I adore.  I am not sure if I’m “ready” for that, but at least, now, I can own that desire to share and create memories with someone. Each year of my life is like one of the effigies of Burning Man. It will come and it will go – very quickly.  So there you have it. I want love in my life. I want to experience the giving and receiving of it.  Life just isn’t as rich when you are a solo artist.

The other big takeaway for me is that I am capable of playing on a much bigger scale than I have been.  Seeing the unabashed creativity of those around me was profoundly inspiring.  I have returned to “the default world” with a new commitment to say YES to opportunity and to play on a much bigger playing field.

Last of all – I have found my tribe, my home.  Black Rock City and it’s dwellers are my kindred spirits and I will return.


Writing on one of the interior panels of The Temple.


P.S.  Check out the collective wisdom of the Burners I met this year on the Playa in the mini interview series, “3 Things”. Click on here to check it out.


I shot RUSH

Today, I achieved one of my most prized bucket list items:  I photographed a RUSH concert.

RUSH has been my favorite band for 20 years. I am slightly hesitant to put it that way, because it forces me to admit to myself that I’m not still 19…  it may suffice to say that RUSH has been one of the biggest musical, aesthetic, and philosophical influences in my life.  I My editor at SLUG Magazine was able to secure a photo pass for me to shoot the show and write a review.  You can see the full set of photos of the RUSH concert here; you can read my full review of the show here.

I’m going to nerd out for a minute about why RUSH is my favorite band. This is the stuff I didn’t share in the concert review for SLUG Magazine.  During my middle school years, I was that kid who dressed in black constantly. Everywhere I went, I wore headphones attached to a Walkman, with a pocket full of Metallica albums on cassette.  I lived in a blase small town, got blase grades, thought blase thoughts of myself. I was getting old enough to realize what the possibilities of life were, and sophisticated enough to be depressed over the difference between potential and reality. Beyond that, the constant onslaught of dark metal created a somewhat permanent weather system of dreary weather in my soul.

In July of 1990, two things happened: The radio station I listened to started playing a few RUSH songs from their latest record, PRESTO.  ‘Superconductor’ and ‘Show Don’t Tell’  fascinated me…  who was this new band?  Who made this immaculate, fresh, energetic music, so full of vitality and positive vibes? I wasn’t sure who the artist was at the time, but every time the songs played, I dropped everything and listened. It was like a light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Clearly, who ever was making this music understood some things about life that I desperately wanted to know.

Around that same time, my uncle Tim gave me a mix tape (yeah kids… mix tapes used to be a real thing. Actual cassette tapes with custom recorded songs via dual cassette deck). It featured things like Yes, Crosby Stills, Nash & Young, Led Zeppelin, and RUSH.  A couple of RUSH songs, Limelight and Vital Signs, caught my attention.  Not long after that, I put two and two together and figured out that it was RUSH on the radio, the same band my uncle has just introduced me to.

Around this same time, I had saved up my lawn mowing money and bought my first CD player.  PRESTO was the first RUSH CD I bought. I spent countless nights listening to the pristine production, the crisp performance, and lyrics like

[quote]” How many times do you hear it? / It goes on all day long / Everyone knows everything / And no one’s ever wrong / Until later… / Who can you believe?  It’s hard to play it safe / But apart from a few good friends / We don’t take anything on faith / Until later… “[/quote]


[quote]”Packaged like a rebel or a hero / Target mass appeal / To make an audience feel He really means it / Package the illusion of persona / Careful to conceal the fact that she’s only too real / She’s got to screen it / Hit you in a soft place /  melody so sweet / A strong and simple beat that you can dance to / Watch his every move / Orchestrate illusions  / Hoping you’ll believe , designing to deceive / That’s entertainment” [/quote]

Lyrics like this were like the purest pharmaceutical grade heroin to Keith Richard’s brain… One hit and I was hooked. They spoke to my budding curious intellect that had been steeped in the culture of Mormonism, a tradition that so adamantly knew ‘all the answers’.   I recognized there was truth being spoken in their songs, and yet it was curiously, ever so slightly, at odds with the paradigm of unquestioning belief that I had been pre-programmed with.  The music was amazing, the lyrics intriguing. Nobody makes music like this… except for RUSH. A love affair had begun.

RUSH stands for a few things:  They carry on their career with utmost integrity to their artistic visions. Early in their career they took steps to make it clear to their record company and management that they would do things their way, or no way at all. They wrote songs of social commentary that called bluffs as the saw them. They deal with the most serious of issues, and at the same time, have the most absurd, silly sense of humor – and are always first in line to make fun of themselves.  With every passing album, I find myself mystified at how they manage to re-imagine their sound and present fresh sounds that trump their prior achievements. Their latest record, Clockwork Angels, is the best thing they’ve done in 20 years. This album finds them pushing the envelope, playig the heaviest music they’ve ever created, and also the most simple, vulnerable, ethereal, beautiful song they’ve ever penned.  RUSH exemplifies the tradition of constant progress.  Geddy, Alex, and Neil make getting older look like a pretty good proposition.

For a few years, I’ve had a photo of a RUSH photo pass on my vision board.  It was supremely gratifying to actually be handed MY photo pass:


 …. as I put it on, I contemplated the countless times I’ve looked up from my desk to see the facsimile of what would eventually become a physical reality.  Our seats were wonderfully close:

stagebefore show IMAG0453_screenrez

 The show itself was a brilliant production:

See the rest of the photos at SLUG Magazine: http://www.slugmag.com/photos/664/RUSH-USANA-Amphitheater-0731.html

Adam Ant in SLC 23 July 2013

Every now and then I get to photograph a legend of sorts. Tonight was one such night:  I was able to photograph (and briefly meet) Adam Ant and The Good, The Mad & The Lovely Posse. I cannot claim to be well versed in Adam Ant’s catalog beyond the handful of 80’s radio hits and his new single, Cool Zombie, I really enjoyed the show. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Ant was asked how he classifies the genre of his music, pointing out that he often gets lumped into the new romantic era.  He identifies more closely with the post punk era, citing the Sex Pistols as an influence.  Tuesday night’s performance certainly was congruent with Ant’s proclaimed punk roots; the band rocked hard: 2 drummers. A bass player wielding a Fender P-bass thumping on a classic Ampeg SVT stack. A guitarist rocking a Fender Telecaster through a Marshal half stack. Eccentric front man dressed like a pirate, belting out pitch perfect vocals. These are the basic ingredients of rock ‘n roll, kids, and Ant did deliver. 80’s post punk is often synth driven and characterized by glossy production that was so popular in the 80’s.  Ant’s band breathed contemporary rock life into the songs while doing them historical justice.



minimaism, mobility, and WTF was up with July?

Has July been bat shit crazy for you? It sure has been for me. I’ve had to deal with some changes that I was not prepared for. One of my dear friends died unexpectedly. I went through some super weird stuff behind the scenes with The Paul Duane Show.  I took my life on the road.

Many of you have been to my Artspace apartment over the years. I’ve been there for almost 5 years. It’s been an amazing place to live. It has served as my home, my photography studio, the scene for many great parties, and the venue for countless deep, personal, profound conversations.  I’ve gone through some huge changes while living there.  When I moved in, I was spending my life working for the Postal Service, angry, cynical, and super agnostic.  As of Summer 2013, I’m full of confidence, intuition, and I’m happily self employed doing the things I love.

A few years ago I read about this guy who is a programmer and decided to live in a decked out Airstream trailer. He cruises around North America and camps wherever he wants, setting up shop for a week at a time in this continent’s most scenic places.  He’s got satellite internet, so he can do his work from literally ANYWHERE. Check out his blog: www.WhereIsKyleNow.com .  As a photographer and writer, I can, and WANT, to do something similar.  My life is pretty simple.  All I need to carry out my work is a laptop, internet connection, phone, camera, and some clothes.

SO…. I’ve done it.  I packed up, put a few things in storage, and left that apartment for the last time.

empty bedroom screen rez

See ya later, alligator. A nearly empty former photo studio / bedroom. Thanks for all the good times!

All of my tools and necessities fit nicely in the trunk of my car. For the next few months, I’m going to places like Lake Tahoe, Burning Man, Moab, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and a dozen little towns in between.  In between road trips, I’ll be in Salt Lake City to spend time with friends, have meetings, do photo shoots, and of course, do The Paul Duane Show. In between all of these things, I’ll return to port in Logan to spend some quality time with family: my brother, sister, nephews, parents, and my daughters all live up there.

One of my challenges in life is to be completely present in situations that I’m in. I tend to be about 98% present in any given circumstance, but that last 2% is where the gold is. My personal commitment is to use this time of living mobile to gain the habit of being fully in the present. I struggle with being distracted by my inner voices from fully enjoying the situations I find myself in.  I want to conquer that 2%. When I’m in something, I want to be ALL THE WAY in it.  The words of Charles Bukowski come to mind:

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”

I want to fully experience things and drink up the last bits of every experience, for God is so often in the details.  Next time I see you, let us toast to park benches, jail, isolation, rejection, and the only good fight there is.

I’ll wrap this up with two practical matters:

  1. I’m in couch surfing mode. If you have a spare sofa that I may sleep on for a few days during one of my stops in SLC, drop me a line here and let me know.  I’m looking to assemble a small list of places I can stay for a few days at a time.  I’ll try to cook dinner for you, read your Tarot cards, or do a portrait of you while I’m at your place.
  2. If you know people in other cities that want photography done – the kind I do – put them in contact with me.  All I need to justify a trip to a certain city is a couple of photo shoots in the course of a week.  I am a very capable of the following types of photography: wedding, family portraits, event photography, musicians / bands / concerts, boudoir, and model portfolio sessions.

I’ll take these trips. I’ll do crazy things. I’ll read lots of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Bukowski.  I’ll meet weird and wonderful people, and will show you their words and images on this blog. I’ll tell you how it all goes down on the road here, and on  The Paul Duane Show.  Stay tuned kids.

devil horn PD signature





Bridal Portfolio Shoot

Every now and then I get to work with other make up artists, hair stylists, wardrobe stylists, and models to create new material for our portfolios.  Check out this latest shoot.  Here are the members of the awesome team for this shoot:

model: Vicki Smith McMurtrey

hair: Amber Dawn Powell

makeup: Chelle Barrett

wardrobe styling: Brittany Barney

I don’t talk about it much, but I do shoot weddings on occasion. Contact me here for booking information.


Marianas Trench 25 May 2013

Photos from the Marianas Trench show in Salt Lake City at The Complex on 25 May 2013:

Limp Bizkit, 19 May 2013

I did it all for the nookie…

untitled-176I’m not ashamed (although barely not so) to admit that Limp Bizkit’s music has been the soundtrack of certain parts of my life.  What red blooded male doesn’t have a little ‘red hat’ in ’em?  Sure, Fred Durst is someone that many love to hate, or hate to love… but I think there’s something cathartic about the way Limp Bizkit throws down.  Gotta love the angst ridden white male rage.

I’ve never seen them play live, so I was thrilled at the opportunity to photograph their 19 May performance in Salt Lake City.  Limp Bizkit is touring with a mostly original lineup; DJ Lethal left the band and has been replaced by a touring road musician who was neatly tucked away behind the bass cabinets of bassist Sam Rivers.  Drummer John Otto smiled through out the whole set, his beats relentlessly driving the Bizkit sound.  Bassist Sam Rivers, front man Fred Durst, and guitarist / resident freak show Wes Borland all seemed a bit tired from the road, though they definitely still delivered a musically solid performance.

They played all of the hits one would expect: Nookie, Break Stuff, Rearranged, Golden Cobra, including a few covers: George Michaels’ “Faith”, “Behind Blue Eyes” by The Who, and to the delight of the audience, a reasonably scorching rendition of “Killing In The Name Of” by Rage Against The Machine.

Check out some photos from the show:


Artist’s renderings in lieu of photographs

New York–based rock act VietNam performed at The Garage on May 8, 2013. Local support by Max Payne & The Groovies and The Breakers. I was assigned to photograph and review the performance for SLUG Magazine. The next evening as I sat down to edit the photos and write the review, to my horror, I discovered that I had accidentally formatted and reused the memory card that contained the photos from the show. There was absolutely no hope – no witchcraft, no computer trickery, no virgin I could sacrifice to any demonic deity – NOTHING was going to bring these images back.

SO… I did the next best thing.  I drew pictures and submitted them to my editor:

nuke2The Breakers opened up the show with bombastic style.

beerLocal man poses with frosty mug of  Uinta Cuthtroat Pale Ale.

maxpayneMax Payne’s grooves are so groovy, it’s almost painful.

congaGirl banging on a conga drum on stage with VietNam. Given that she wasn’t thrown off the stage, she is probably a new member, or more than likely, the singer’s new girlfriend that he met in Madison, Wisconsin last week.

kissingTwo bar girls kiss each other in a desperate attempt to garner some male attention. It’s a good start girls, keep it up!

vietnamMichael Gerner fronts a band named after a war that destroyed millions of innocent lives and was based on lies and media manipulation. So retro!

singer2VietNam’s Michael Gerner flirts with the fine line between looking like you are really so poor and starving of a musician that all you can afford to wear is a Hello Kitty sweater, and the conspicuous consumption of thrift store goods that Macklemore has made insanely mainstream.

singVietNam’s Michael Gerner gives a dramatic pause before launching into his latest epic composition, “Of nerve agent and photography”.

singer 3

Gerner tries to pretend that he’s not wearing a wicker road cone on his head.

bassplayerThe bass player for VietNam played with his back to the audience the entire time.

singer 4The fans listen intently as Gerner emotes.

violinNathanael “Lefty” Maynard rocked the violin, stage left.

singer 5Gerner sheds a tear as he sings the sad song…

stoked kidLocal kid loses his shit as the band roars into a crescendo of random conga hits, scratchy violin squeaks, drum beats and sick back-facing bass lines. Being the only one of his friends that have heard that there’s such a thing as “classic rock”, he also feels most entitled to be stoked out of his mind.

singer 6Gerner reaches the climax of the song, to wild applause from the audience.

thedeadAn aerial shot of the floor at The Garage: The aftermath of tonight’s show.