Good Riddance to Burning Man?

Organizers of the Burning Man festival at Black Rock City have effectively shut down photography at this year’s event, according to a lament on the San Francisco Chronicle web site.

Rules for this year’s festival prohibit photographs of any people without signed model release forms, or pictures of the outlandish structures at the festival without the written consent of the artists. If you take pictures, you have to surrender all rights to the organizers of the festival, and refrain from distributing the pictures in any media–including Facebook–without their written permission.

The rules come off as an affront to all manner of rights and personal freedoms (at a festival that was built on those very principles, no less). And it’s a shame that a few bad apples have managed to spoil things for everyone (by going to Burning Man just to take and distribute pictures of naked, uninhibited women).

But maybe there’s a silver lining. The new rules just might be what we need to force aspiring documentary photographers to think outside the Burning Man box, and to save us from yet more of the same-old, same-old Burning Man pictures.

15 Responses to “Good Riddance to Burning Man?”

  1. Mark Kalan Says:

    Straight from the Lady Gaga playbook.

  2. Daniel Says:

    Much ado about nothing. Their terms have no teeth, whatsoever. Any case brought by BRC would be thrown out of court.

    That said: anything that reduces the number of photographers who try to show that that they are “hip” by “documenting the culture of BM”, is fine by me. It has all become a terrible cliche’.

  3. Daniel Says:

    BTW- These terms have been around for a few years.

  4. Hank Miller Says:

    Daniel is incorrect. They can prosecute and win in the 9th District Court hands down since one of their junior judges helped to draft/create their contract. But, whether or not the will follow up is another story.

  5. jase Says:

    Shooting at BM is a cliche anyway.

  6. mike Says:

    sad aint it. what do you do.

  7. Jim Says:

    I hate the “cliche” argument that people so casually cite. If simply shooting what has been shot before makes it cliche, then everything is cliche. Architecture, portraits, landscapes, nudes, commercial, you name it. It’s not the subject you shoot; it’s how you shoot it.

  8. shahn Says:

    well put, jim

  9. Cameron Says:

    Not sure how they plan to enforce such a policy.

  10. Dan Says:

    If someone takes the trouble to actually read the rules on the BM website, as I did, one will find that the second paragraph of this article is a complete distortion of the actual rules and is simply false.

    For example, you do NOT have to surrender ALL RIGHTS to the organizers of the festival. The rules say: “You will be required to grant Burning Man a license to use such images, film, video and sounds for Burning Man art shows, the Burning Man newsletter, and at special Burning Man events, including our San Francisco-based Flambé Lounges and for video or film made by or on behalf of Burning Man. In addition, if Burning Man receives requests from print and broadcast media during the year for images and footage, we will direct interested parties to individuals who have contributed to the archive. In cases of such referral, you are free to negotiate usage terms and fees accordingly, provided Burning Man has approved the intended use.” There is a big difference between “surrender all rights” and “grant a license” for specified BM uses. In addition, there is quite wide latitude for personal, private photography.

    The rules are basically an attempt to protect the personal freedoms, rights and privacy of participants engaging in what BM considers to be a private event. BM has always billed itself as a contributory, giving, participation event, rather than simply a spectator, taking event. If your thing at the event is commercial photography, you are expected to contribute to the BM archive.

    Given the nature of the event, the rules seem fairly reasonable to me. There are many rules addressing personal, editorial or commercial use of images, and it seems to me that BM is trying to make reasonable accommodations while respecting participants’ rights to privacy. People who want to take pictures of whatever they want and use them in any way they want will not like the rules at all, but then they wouldn’t like the restrictions at all kinds of private venues or events. Obviously, if you don’t like the rules, you don’t have to go.

  11. Tony Cotto Says:

    Go Team USA! Soon you wont be able to take photographs on the street without getting permission.

  12. Alistair Says:

    Sorry I got all steamy eyed at the naked uninhibited women bit!

  13. Johnny Anderson Says:

    Especially effectively penned. It would not surprise me to see your followers demanding a lot more. I can certainly declare that I will be back to get even more. Thanks a lot for your work.

  14. Eddy Gainforth Says:


  15. John Mireles Says:

    Much ado about nothing. The rules really haven’t changed over the past few years so this isn’t anything new. The prohibition against photographing art isn’t so much that as it is a reminder that art is copyrighted work that may not be reproduced without permission of the artist. Hmmmm… does that sound familiar to anyone?

    There’s some bad reporting in this article as well. Permission is not required for personal use of photos – so publishing to one’s Facebook, Flickr etc accounts is not going to earn one a burning lawsuit. Also, no where does it say that a model release is required to take a photograph. The guidelines say that one may be required for commercial use, but how is that different from the real world?

    The author should check his facts before yelling “fire” in the photography world of Burning Man. I just returned from my fourth year of shooting there and I can attest that nothing has changed.