Award-winning advertising photographer Uwe Duettmann recently realized a long-held dream of attending Burning Man, the famously outlandish annual art and culture festival held Black Rock Desert, Nevada, and beloved by idiosyncratic iconoclasts and the merely curious. Below, Uwe talks about why he finds the fest so compelling and how he decided what to shoot given that everywhere he looked he saw a flood of possible images…
“For a long time, I’ve wanted to visit Burning Man. I love the location—the desert, the light there, the mood, the vastness, and how everything stands out against the landscape and becomes important. I’m also drawn to the culture of the festival, the idea of creating an open society where everybody accepts each other. And from a creative point of view, Burning Man is interesting to me because all of these magnificent people build incredible objects and art and machines just for the event.
Still, I had no real idea what to expect when I arrived, and I told myself to be open to whatever I saw. On the opening day, I took a bike ride on the playa, which is the big open dry lake where the installations are shown. I was completely overwhelmed by the sight of desert in combination with these extraordinarily interesting-looking people. It seemed like everything was floating around, constantly in motion. Even most of the vehicles were made by hand, and they made me smile because were so funny and unusual. Everything had a positive energy.
After two hours, I returned to the RV where I was staying, completely exhausted. It was all almost too much. I thought to myself that if I had to go out there again and try to photograph the people in costumes, the landscape, the vehicles, the objects—I would just puke. It felt like a constant flow of pictures.
So I decided to stay away from taking portraits and to just bike around and hang out at the playa and let my mood determine when I would take a picture. So most of the photos are taken from a distance. That’s just what felt right.
I went out before sunrise for three hours, then again at around 1 P.M. for a few hours, and then again at around 5 or 6 P.M., into the sunset and back again. At night, I always spent a few hours scoping out the mood of the playa, which was filled with illuminated people and objects.
When I returned home, I tried to interpret the photographs I’d take with my own distinct palette. The pictures I’ve seen of Burning Man are more documentary in style, and I wasn’t going for that with my project. I wanted to show the Burning Man mood.”
See more of Uwe’s Burning Man photos on Instagram.