News

Witness to Burning Man
Author: Cliff Collins
Posted: May 27, 2018

Awakening Dance, 2016

Stewart Harvey ’69, MA ’71 considers himself the volunteer historian of Burning Man, but even he can’t believe how what started as a small hippie gathering on a San Francisco beach 32 years ago evolved into an international draw.

Harvey, a longtime Portland photographer and former English teacher, chronicles that astounding transformation in Playa Fire: Spirit and Soul at Burning Man, published by HarperElixir, a large-format book that he both wrote and photographed.

For him, “transformative” defines the annual gathering, which combines ritual, art and community. He has shot it every year since 1989. “The reason I go is because it’s a fantastic experience” he says.

 

Larry Harvey, pictured here in 1991, was one of the founders of Burning man.It began in 1986 when Harvey’s late brother, Larry, became interested in blending ritual and temporal art. To observe the summer solstice, he brought a few friends to Baker Beach, in sight of the Golden Gate Bridge, and built a 9-foot stick figure, then burned it. They returned each year with a larger figure, and with the crowds doubling annually, in 1990 Larry Harvey and his compatriots moved the event to Black Desert Rock, Nevada.

 

In recent years, up to 70,000 people from all over the world flock there for a late-summer week. To top it off, the Smithsonian American Art Museum currently is exhibiting “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man,” calling the festival “one of the most influential phenomenons in contemporary American art and culture.”

The “No Spectators” theme “caught on from the beginning,” Stewart Harvey says. “You do something; you participate on some level.”

Exploding Heart, 2012

Temple of Transition, 2011

Emergence, 2000

–written by Cliff Collins, a Portland freelance writer.

Captions: Awakening Dance, 2016
Stewart Harvey’s late brother, Larry, pictured here in 1991, was one of the founders of Burning Man.
Exploding Heart, 2012
Temple of Transition, 2011
Emergence, 2000