I once heard the story of a child at Burning Man who looked around at the spectacle and said, “I don’t get what the big deal is. This is just a bunch of adults acting like children.”
An alternative community in the desert, Burning Man is an open canvas for self-exploration and self-expression. 70,000 people now make the pilgrimage each year for seven dusty days to experience the multi-layered experience that is Burning Man. Intermingled in the chaos there is a childlike essence to the endless playground that is constructed on the Playa (Black Rock Desert, NV) each year; and as the community grows, it ushers in more of the little burners. As adults, many Burners use these seven days to bask in the remembrance of the wild potentials for free expression that were the feelings of their childhood.
Surrounded by youthful indulgences, the young Burners become the wise sages of this playful community. Children naturally bring some of the most potent Playa tools: their fiercely wild imaginations and insatiable hunger for play. The children of Burning Man are beautifully innocent and unwaveringly honest examples of the essence of this spectacular, cultural phenomenon.
Zipporah Lomax, a festival photographer, has taken on the role of weaving the story of these dusty little ones into a photography book entitled Dusty Playground. Lomax has been a part of the Burning Man community for 15 years now. More recently, her lens has led her into the intimate lives of families on the Playa. In an art project funded by a group of individuals who believed in Lomax’s creative endeavor, Lomax received $47,775 from 448 backers to bring these photographic images to life.
We had a chance to get the perspective of Zipporah Lomax herself on her approach to this colossal community that is opening the pages of a new perspective of Burning Man by honoring the “tiniest burners.”
BW: As an artist, you are constantly questioning what your work means to yourself and others; and to have such a resounding positive affirmation about what you’re doing, through your Kickstarter, that’s really fantastic.
ZL: I was really asking the world [with the kickstarter] to confirm that what I’m doing is worth putting all my energy into… I really could not have anticipated how much attention it would end up garnering on its own. … I thought people might laugh that I wanted to make a book about the kids. I think I’m still kind of in awe.
BW: How do you feel your art is also simultaneously your gift?
ZL: Even if I thought about that for a while, I don’t know that I would be able to separate those two words from each other, “art” and “gift”… I really think that everyone was born with the ability to cultivate, or transform, an interest into a gift. If there is enough genuine and authentic interest in something, and enough dedicated and focused attention on it, I think that anything can become an art or a gift.
BW: As you watch the cultural identity of Burning Man change and more in the past 15 years, how has that affected your own artistic expression?
ZL: My first response is that it’s difficult to measure the shift in either the culture or myself, because I’ve been part of it… I know that for me Burning Man has always been a place, not to disconnect from some default world, and not to party my face off for one week in the desert, but really quite the opposite … There’s always been this clarity that comes for me, in that really dusty place.
BW: How have you captured that change through your lens, and how have you captured the children within that change?
ZL: My first awareness of a little child was in 2001 at center camp. This tiny little baby, who wasn’t even walking yet, just sitting there in the dust in this white, very dusty onesie that said “F*ck Bush.” I remember looking at this child and just being so struck by imagining what this child was gonna grow up to be, having this really early exposure to what I felt was really a cutting edge experimental culture … I think I’ve always been really aware of them, fascinated by them, and totally in love with them. I think they are the dustiest little sages, and I’ve had the most awesome conversations with them, which I can’t really regurgitate, but in the moment I’m just like “you are such an awesome little being and I can’t wait to see who you become and what you do out there.”
BW: You’re following these children through their learning experience of this culture that’s ever-evolving, just like these children are.
ZL: I want to spend more time with my subjects, and get to know them a little bit so that the photos are truly an honoring of what they are doing, and the more time that I can spend with them, even if it’s only five minutes, then the photos aren’t just this collection of visual high fives, they are these beautiful little vignettes.
BW: It’s like you’ve been chosen to tell this story.
ZL: I feel really grateful that I get to be the one to bring this project into being….As much as a mother doesn’t know what their child is going to look like while it’s growing inside them, I don’t know yet. I’m as in the dark as everyone else is about how it’s actually going to look, but I’m up for it, I’m ready to birth it.
To find out more about Zipporah Lomax and Dusty Playground, go to www.dustyplayground.com.