WAITING FOR DRAGONS.
By Timothy Alexander Phillips
Anyone who’s been to Burning Man will tell you of the futility of keeping plans. On monday it’s nearly impossible and day by day it becomes exponentially harder. Everything about the place seems designed to upend structure no matter how carefully constructed. It’s a vast, barren Bermuda Triangle of dust, chaos, and infinite distractions. Cellphone service is rare, everything moves, sleep is best caught when the opportunity presents itself and nothing is routine. To battle the vast entropy of Burning Man is to build sand castles in a hurricane. The playa is a place of immediacy. Nothing about it wants to meet expectation and once you are honest with yourself you will find that fact liberating. Do not chase the dragon. Just to let go. Trust in serendipity and embrace the beauty everywhere around you. Be at ease, and let the world of possibility knock on your door.
In the past I have collaborated with others to create otherworldly fashion shoots. I didn’t want to be just a tourist, I wanted to generate a story. With the help of talented designers and models I think we’ve made beautiful images together and I am proud of them but I have also been poignantly aware that our creation was a fabrication. It wasn’t my truth or the Playa’s, it was an exercise in beauty and fiction. To be honest I think it has been a way to avoid vulnerability. You can tell a lot about someone’s mind through their treatment of a subject, a photo can be a celebration, or an invasion. In my case, by focusing on beauty I conveniently avoided exposing my personal sentiments to the world. This year was different however, I felt stronger, more confident of my artist voice. I committed to being in the moment, to telling my story. I would keep my camera with me as much as possible and try to capture the infinite moments that resonated inside.
“You can tell a lot about someone’s mind through their treatment of a subject, a photo can be a celebration, or an invasion.”
Shooting on manual outside of the studio is tricky under any circumstance but at Burning Man it takes on a new complexity. I’ve crawled, climbed, split my pants and fallen off moving objects. My friends tease me about the weird positions I contort myself into, they call it my photo-yoga. On the playa photographers are at the mercy of circumstance, which is the opposite of our carefully controlled studio environment. By habit I shoot mostly manual and with a fixed lens. No zoom, no cropping, no flashes, worse yet I can’t wear goggles so dust blows in my eyes, I can’t read the meter, and the lens is ALWAYS dirty. To make an image happen I run back and forth and wait for the people and every changing environment to align and hope for a bright enough source of light to illuminate it. This is particularly tough at night, when one moment you’re using the dim, intermittent light of someone’s blinkies to focus a shot and suddenly the night sky is washed with the brilliance and heat a massive art car mounted flame thrower. Nothing is predictable.
Documentary style shooting is new to me so I didn’t have high hopes and sure enough there were a lot of useless images. But I was pleasantly surprised how many fond memories were waiting on the camera and back in New York City I came to a second resolution. In keeping with my commitment to stay present, I would do my best to capture the feelings and memories evoked by each image, to remember where I was in that moment emotionally, and to articulate the parts of the Burning Man culture I hold dear. This collection is the beginning of a project that I hope will continue for a long time.
I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed making them.
Timothy is a photographer based in Brooklyn New York. He trained as a sculptor and architect at Yale University School of Architecture, before he discovered a passion for community building and celebration while throwing a masquerade birthday party that has become renowned in New York City. His love of artistry and celebration led to the founding of Lightning Society, a network of like minded people committed to expanding their horizons and helping each other achieve their personal and creative potential.
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/timothyphillips/