Burner Portraits by Waynerd – A First-Year’s Gift of Images

The first year down the rabbit hole is always a soul altering experience, and one aspect of that is the practice of gifting. My first year prior to going I decided I would gift dream catcher lessons on the Playa. For weeks before I wove looms and collected beads, string, and feathers for my future pupils to use to create their works of art. After arriving I promptly disappeared from my camp for a few days, and upon wandering home happened upon a camp making mojitos inside of fresh coconuts. For some reason I decided this was the perfect place to recruit students so I could share my gifts. I invited my new friends back home where I gave them a quick demo of the art of dreamcatcher making below the now half-collapsed parachute that served as our shade. I realized at about this point that I hadn’t slept in days. My eyes got very heavy and I drifted off during my lesson. When I woke up again it was to the heat of the following day…

I tell this story to give you some insight on why I was so impressed with Wayne’s Playa gifting during his first  journey to Black Rock City.  I couldn’t even stay awake long enough to teach a few hippies how to weave together something I learned to make in third grade, and this guy put together a traveling carnivalesque/snake oil salesman themed photo booth for goodness sake. He’s a pretty cool guy and I had fun asking him questions. I hope you enjoy his story.


The virgin journey to BRC is epic, what special circumstances made it possible for you to arrive in 2012?
Actually, it’s more of a question of how many things were coming at me that were telling me I shouldn’t go. At one point I had resolved that it wasn’t meant to be my year to go. I was on a limited budget, was saving and planning and had decided on building my photo cart. The dark cloud started rolling in [and] as the date to leave approached I was looking at my descemated travel budget, the fact that I had no passport yet and had a half finished photo cart I was getting a little down. After a good nights sleep I kind of snapped out of it, told myself I WAS GOING NO MATTER WHAT. Mere days before leaving, my passport came in the mail, left in the mailbox with a note written on it from the postal lady. “I signed for this for you, something tells me you need it”. That was bizarre.

What was your interpretation of the gifting phenomenon? It seems like you grasped it pretty well as a first year to build your photo trailer!
Early on, once I knew I had a ticket coming I started reading and watching EVERYTHING, and once I knew about the way the gifting worked I started to wonder what I could do. Obviously I didn’t have much of a budget for actual material “gifts” of some sort so I looked at what I could “do” that would perhaps translate into a good gift. Asking dumb questions on Eplaya and even messaging a few burners who were ALL graciously supportive, (Thank you Savannah, Halcyon and Zoltan).  I just tried to put my low budget spin on the idea, building a cart, throwing together a bit of a outfit that went with it and with the cards to give out so people could find their photos afterward, I figured that would have to do.


Favorite moments on the Playa?
Long before I knew anything about Burning Man other than that it existed I was attracted to the beautiful images of the various years’ Temple. As a photographer I was drawn to them. As I started to learn more about what they mean to the event and how they came to be I was pulled even closer to them. In my “pre burn learning” I learned of David Best, saw him in a few documentaries and without sounding like a bit of a freak, was really drawn to his energy. Having lost both parents by the time I was 30 I felt a pretty deep connection to what he was creating. It was Monday or Tuesday night, I was out walking alone along Esplanade and I came across his camp. His crew were feverishly nailing intricately cut left over wood to their camps fence and archway, racing the approaching darkness. I was actually assiting with my headlamp when I saw David. He was directing wood pieces into their spots and as he came closer I resisted interupting him only to lose the inner battle and blurt out his name. He came over, literally stopped everything he was doing and we proceeded to have an amazing conversation about his work, loss, death, my parents, my siblings and more. The energy that man emits is unexplainably amazing. After that 15 minute conversation I walked back to my camp with tears streaming down my face and poured myself a drink, content that if my Burn were to end that night I would be 100% ok with it.

Did having a media pass make people more open or closed to photos?
When I did my reading I learned all about the camera registrations, releases and paper work that the Org requires. I wasn’t sure where my project fell into all that so I registered for a media pass. Having that orange tag on my camera did get me a few apprehensive and judgemental looks a few times. No words were said, I could just tell that a few people may have been questioning my motives. To their defence it was usually when I was out without my cart and simply wandering. For the record I always asked permission before taking anyone’s photo.


All of your photos encompass a moment, but the ones I am drawn to more are the ones that look un-posed, I was particularly drawn to the woman sleeping in Center Camp, does she have a story?
I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the random casual unposed shots. The few “candid Playa portraits” I took were all when I was wandering without the cart. The one you’re speaking of was simply a moment were as I walked by I saw the girl sleeping with her man, the rays of sunlight through the canopy of Center Camp catching them perfectly. Initially, as I walked by he had his eyes open, I quietly asked if I could take their photo, she was topless and at that point laying more on her back. I took a shot, gave him a card and moved on. A few moments later I turned to see that she had turned over and he was also resting with his eyes closed. They looked even more serene and I took another shot. Both are available to them but out of repsect for her privacy I only posted the second one on my site.

Your photos all show joy in some form. Did you look for any darkness to bring into your portraits?
Being it my first burn, being totally overwhelmed by everything most of the time and also being somewhat of an introvert myself I really just asked people to be themselves for their portraits. I told a lot of people “it’s your portrait, you be/do what you want”. Everyone was having a good time and I think it shows. That said there is one fellow that I met while set up in the 6 o’clock road with the Man in the distant background. He came walking up alone, his name was Coty. He said he had spent some time at Temple and he still seemed very contemplative. We took a few shots and he isn’t smiling in them but I do remember him saying something about “wanting to remember this day”. Soon after that his friends came and joined us and he opened up and was smiling. That made me happy.


How have some of your ideas about Burning Man changed since you actually experienced it?
Oh how haven’t they? I thought I was prepared after all the reading I did and sure, in almost every way I was but as far as what Burning Man IS, I had NO IDEA. Even in my post burn reflection I have learned so much about what it is, what it does for you if you let it as well as so many things about myself. I’m a bit of a loner a lot of the time. I have great friends, don’t get me wrong but I’m quite okay being and doing a lot of things alone, including going to Burning Man apparently. However, I spent a lot of time alone at my first burn and it was no one’s doing but my own. I simply didn’t fathom how excepting everyone is and had a hard time accepting it, even after a few days. I couldn’t quite completely lose my shell. Even with all the people I met both out on the Playa with my cart and the great people within my camp, my walls were still up yet a part of me wanted to desperately connect more. This is exactly why I feel my second burn is going to eclipse my first in so many ways, simply because I’m done with the “deer in the headlights” portion of the ride and can focus on letting go. Plus I get to play host to at least one virgin friend who’s meeting me there this year!

Do you have grandiose plans for 2013? What would you do better this year?
Well I’m bringing the cart back, It may look different as I may try and come up with some form of cosmetic alterations that perhaps match this years theme. Most likely it will be the same makeshift lighting set up though. One day I’m thinking of doing a larger mobile golf cart/art car version with some props and backdrops but that may be a few burns away yet.

Advice for other photographers at BRC?
Well for the virgin ones, don’t go to Burning Man thinking you’re going to capture “it” with a camera. I walked out onto thePlaya one of my first nights, all serious photgrapher like, toting my tripod all ready to capture the “best shots ever”. 20 minutes later I was back at camp putting my gear away because that whole idea is redundant. One does not capture Burning Man to a memory card. You can capture moments, you can document the amazing art, you can create a memory for someone but you can not encompass what Burning man is to an image, … not even 1000 images.

Any philosophical words about the symbolism of impermanence the Man and Temple represent juxtapose with the fact that you give the gift of preserving a moment, of giving it a form of permanence?
Ah but the question I think I have to ask is how impermanent IS the Man and Temple? Sure, as material wood structures their existence is short but for me, those two burns will live within me forever. There is nothing temporary about those memories. The whole experience changed me. Not just my experience of the burn in general but the experiences I had taking the photos I took of all the awesome burners I met. So if somehow I was able to capture and gift an image that will remind someone else how great their burn was, or about the burn they were able to move on from something, or that they realized they could grow or become better people, than I think that it somehow makes those wooden symbols last forever within them. I’d also like to add that my gift has brought so much joy back to me since I’ve been home. Through the cold Canadian winter nothing makes me smile and fills my heart like having someone contact me for their photos and then really liking them. It’s been amazing.

The Cart Wayne Stradler Burn After Reading MagazineWSP-BM-Portrait06


Wayne Stradler Burn After Reading Magazine interview by Kyra Bramble

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