Brad Templeton's Photography
Burning Man 2003

Burning Man 2003

How can I not return to Burning Man? Even though another great time, the World Science Fiction Convention, was in my hometown of Toronto, the call of Burning Man was stronger.

I was camped, and had my photo wall at Literal and Esplanade. Except nobody called it Literal, they all called it 7 o'clock. If BRC wants to have named radial streets it is going to have to have a nice code system (alphabetical order) to get people to use them. This was "Embassy" camp which was the Oregon Country Fair Embassy turning into a village including a number of sub-camps.

Once again I had too many projects, including this year writing and photographing for the Black Rock Gazette. Plus we got off a great "Save the Man" protest this year, in fact it was one of only two art projects to be noted in the New York Times Coverage of Burning Man.

This year we again stopped in Reno coming and going, which costs time but is relaxing. We came in a van and a tent, and overdid it, including a futon and frame in the tent, tons of battery power -- enough to run a swamp cooler -- a DC generator to recharge batteries, too many projects and a bigger photo wall.

Of course my real photographic goal is the Panoramas. The 2003 panoramas are here. Also be sure to check out the 2002 Panoramas including my first Night panoramas, and of course the 2001 Panoramas, 2000 Panoramas, 1999 Panoramas and the 1998 Pano.

Plus the 2003 Decompression party.

There are also photo essays from 2000, 2001 and 2002. More below

Are you in here?

If you're in one of these shots naked and don't want to be, let me know and I'll see if I can find an alternate or blur you. I wasn't always able to get permission on group shots.

Too many projects

I never learn. This year projects included the photo wall, bigger than ever before, with the 150 megapixel giant shot and the popular night shot. The wall was 32' long. I had planned to assemble a panorama on the Playa in my tent, and did so, but was not able to upload it in time for printing.

I also spent a fair bit of time shooting new panos, including some with the 11.5 megapixel Canon 1ds camera, on loan from the generous folks at Google. The result should be the biggest pano in the world.

The Protest and the Burn

Also on tap, in addition to the way overdone tent, was Kathryn's "Free Speech Zone" which we didn't get up until Saturday, and the very successful satirical "Save the Man" Protest. This time we had many supporters join us, some with their own signs. The crowd loved it and a lot of them chanted with us to save the man, while others of course bantered back to burn him. It's even more fun after the burn, when we walk around sad and claim it's not too late. Of course, burners all come up with the original idea of telling us to burn the signs, and after the 4th or 5th group did this we did that traditional burning. (This year, however, I actually had to whack somebody who was trying to burn Kathryn's elwire sign while she was holding it!)

I'm jaded I guess, in that I felt the burn itself was too over the top. Each year the folks who do the burn feel a need to outdo past efforts. Now, the man's pyramid eclipsed the man himself. Many reported barely seeing the Man burn due to the smoke and flames from the pyramid. The image of flames crawling up the skeletal Man was gone. He fell quickly, with minimal anticipation. It was more a fireworks show than a burning of the Man.

However, virgins seemed to be just as impressed and moved as always. Because I wasn't as moved by the burn, I mostly just felt the emptiness of the city without the Man.

Also on the project list was this year's T-shirt WWtMD -- a parody of What Would Jesus Do? shirts in the spirit of the spiritual theme. And I brought an Ethernet phone and got it working, and put it in our camp. Many people came by and made phone calls home on it. Others had brought Vonage IP phones and done the same thing. Next year now that this works I may make a real phone booth on the Playa.

I had photos and a story in the gate Gazette, and made a pano for the exodus issue, but due to a mixup it didn't get included. The Gazette is a good hardworking group of people, but it's more of a house organ than I had expected.

While I was camping with Embassy camp, my home for the last 5 burns which has Esplanade space for my picture wall, I had a 2nd home in Mt. Olympus camp, right behind the Embassy, where I had sent a number of my friends who were in search of a camp after the Embassy had filled up. For them I transported in a dewar of Liquid Nitrogen, for much Playa fun as well as frozen treats. They created a great replica of Sutro Tower (which was also their Sutro shower.)

I also helped campmates build an art-car with hanging sky-chairs. Their generator had died and I had a small 2-stroke DC generator which I had brought for my batteries. They were able to use it to power their lights and recharge their batteries to get their artcar running, and I rode it a bit. Our immediate neighbours in the Embassy also brought a really great glowing art-car (see it in my cars section) which they were kind enough to let us borrow some of the time.

I never did assemble my special kit to combine two bikes into one quadracycle as a Playamobile. Instead, Kathryn with her hurt knee just towed behind my recumbent bike. Recumbents are definitely the type of bike to have at Burning Man if you can't have a trike or quadracycle.

To my surprise, even with a full week, I didn't get out much and again saw only a fraction of the city.

Like I said, too much participating, not enough spectating!


Photos again were taken mostly with the Canon D60. I also used the 11 megapixel 1Ds for tower shots and panoramas. We had the Canon S40 pocket camera, but unfortunately it was stolen off the bike on Sunday, my first Burning Man theft experience. This year I had a new 1.4x extender which makes a 280mm lens, which is like a 450mm on the D60. This made for a great ability to get distant shots, though they are not as sweet as on the unextended lens.

There was not properly placed tower in center camp, but there was a good tower behind it in G-spot camp, and the best tower turned out to be right in our own camp, the Embassy. I tried to get a cherry picker or find the tall art cars but that never panned out.

Also in use was my 20mm Sigma fixed lens for wide angle panos.

The Weather

This year was good weather. Nights were colder than desired (until Sunday) and there were several windy weekdays, but aside from early Monday no really bad problems and no rain at all. The tent was just too damn hot, though, even with the swamp cooler. As I wrote last year and in the Gazette, there are advantages to RVs and tents, but the heat was just too draining and took away from my BM experience, so I'm going back to the RV.


To my surprise, BM did not grow much this year. If that's the goal of the LLC, they are managing the price and publicity well. More and more people are hearing about what an amazing place it is, so I don't know what kept them away. I had expected 35K at least but the gate number was reported as 30,500.

Burning Man is no longer a no-rules society by any stretch. It's better described as a differently-ruled community. There are too many problem people to live without the rules any more, though most of the people are very cool.

Live Music

This year, the FCC came in and cracked down (like they have nothing better to do) on the many radio stations that used to run unlicenced in the city. A stupid move, but it actually turned out positive for me. I felt there was a lot more live music at BM this year than in the past, and better music.

Perhaps the radio stations were just an excuse for some to play loud music all day on speakers, even though nobody was listening on the airwaves.

While it won't happen, I personally would love the idea of a Burning Man where recorded music was limited to low-volume in-camp, and only live music could be loud. Live music is always better, and it is real self-expression. Spinning recorded music has some self-expression, but mostly you are pumping out somebody else's art.

Live music won't run all night, it's too much work, but it will be good while it runs. Then we might get some sleep again.

Street Design

The city is too big to walk, and everybody wants prime Esplanade space. It's time to create a 2nd esplanade, a concentric Champs Elysee promenade about 200 yards in from the Esplanade. This would be an extra wide street with pedestrian and bike/artcar lanes in each direction with an central section (non-traffic) devoted to art pieces.

I also continue to contend that a circle is the shape that encloses an area with the least perimeter. I think a better shape for the city might be like Superman's crest with the top off an open to the playa.


The Beyond Belief theme went off, but I felt a lot of people just paid lip service to it. I was one of them. However, that's about as much as can be expected. Some people did more serious things, which I suspect is Larry's goal. He'll return to a less serious theme next year if I understand his plan.

Generators and Power

This year I was excited to find a tiny generator Coleman/Subaru made and recently discontinued called the Ultimite. It's tiny, 23 pounds and is actually a 12vdc generator with an inverter if you need AC.

I bought it thinking it would be the perfect burning man generator. Run off deep cycle batteries for all your lighting, computers, sound, swamp cooling etc. and just run the generator (90 amps DC) for a short time every day or two to recharge.

Unfortunately, as a 2-stroke it's much noisier and smellier than I would like. So I used it sparingly. Apparently there is still much demand for it, but perhaps the next step would be a quieter 4-cycle generator of a similar design. This would be the ideal camping and burning man generator. Running generators all the time is not very nice or ecological.

Turns out I was able to also tap into other generators with my 12 amp charger to minimize what I had to run of my own generator. In fact, get a more powerful (40 amp) battery charger and a 100' extension cord and I would be very surprised if you can't meet all your power needs from nearby RVs and generators. I buy 110 amp-hour RV batteries from Costco for $43. That's a kwh, enough to run a computer all week, or run bright fluorescent lights, battery chargers etc.