Cameras at Burning Man: Policies for the digital age

Burning Man is trying to  figure out how to respond to the revolution in digital photography.

Old timers will tell you that cameras weren’t much in evidence in the early years of the event. But now you can’t help but see cameras everywhere on the playa —  from cellphones and point-and-shoots to expensive and sophisticated digital recording equipment that produces everything from stunningly artistic imagery to high-res but low-rent voyeuristic crap.

And the places that those pictures wind up is changing, too. Burning Man has always said it was fine to share your pictures among your friends and family. But what are friends and family these days, when you might have 1,000 “friends” on Facebook, or thousands of visitors to your Flickr or YouTube sites?

What happens to the privacy rights of, say, a schoolteacher who enjoys the freedom and empowerment of the Critical Tits bike ride? Should she have to worry when she gets back from the desert that her picture will be easy to find on the internet?

Last week, the organization gathered photographers, videographers, artists, event leaders, legal experts, technologists and just plain good thinkers to explore the ramifications of the digital revolution. Are Burning Man’s policies and procedures still up to the task of protecting privacy, preventing commercialization while still  nurturing the creative image-making process?

The discussions were heartfelt, impassioned, informed and on the whole amazingly constructive.
Much more work remains to be done, and a team of people, including the communications department and legal team, are charged with turning the talk into action items.

Here is some of what was said, plus, if you’ll forgive the intrusion, a little of what I think:

It was pointed out numerous times that there is language for lawyers, and then there is language for the rest of us. If you read the fine print on your ticket to the event, or you read the terms of agreement on the Burning Man website, you’ll find very powerful legalese that accurately reflects the organization’s concerns on the subjects of photography, moving images, privacy and commercialization.

But behind it all is this: Burning man wants to protect people’s privacy, and it wants to protect itself from commercialization. That is what drives all the legalese. But it still bears repeating, in plain and simple language, as clearly and as often as possible: The community of Burning Man believes in the right to privacy.

There was a great deal of discussion about the appropriateness of protecting people’s privacy with the weapons of copyright enforcement. From a practical and legal standpoint,  the copyright tool is effective, so there doesn’t seem to be much reason to stop using it.

But the problem is greater than a person’s image appearing on a tittie website. The issue is one of culture, of what kind of experience you will have at Burning Man. And the issue is respecting each other, including the desire to let what happens in the desert stay there.

If someone’s privacy is violated because their image appears on a tittie site, Burning Man has  ample ability to get that photo or video removed.

But there is much less control over images that appear on social media. And all the discussion in the world about copyright infringement is not going to be helpful here. But there is a way to empower ALL  the sides in this issue — the image makers, the people who ENJOY being photographed, and those who don’t.

It would seem that Burning Man must make it clear to all photographers (and this is going to sound harsh) that they do not have the RIGHT to take photographs at the event, but they do have the PRIVILEGE. And with that privilege comes responsibility.

Really, there are two kinds of people at Burning Man (and in the world): Those who like to have their picture taken, and those who don’t. And I believe that every image maker at Burning Man must accept the RESPONSIBILITY of figuring out which is which.

This is the culture of the event: There are people who like to make images, there are people who enjoy having images made of them and/or their art, and there are people who don’t. The Burning Man image-maker is expected to find out, and then respect, the difference.

—–

Ok, so now you’re back from the event, and if you are a serious photographer, you have hundreds, maybe thousands, of pictures. How should you be able to use  them? Can you have a gallery show, or produce an art book? For years, Burning Man’s answer has been mostly yes. But what about an enterprising photographer or company that wants to post thousands of photos on a website and offer them for sale? Is that fair use? Are people’s rights being violated? Is the event being commercialized?

You can only buy two things at Burning Man: coffee and ice. I don’t think  there is any desire to add pictures to that list.

So maybe Burning Man should allow books to be made (including those from self-publishing sites like Blurb), but maintain that it is a violation of the terms of agreement to set up a website that commercializes the images captured at Burning Man.

(People ask for copies of pictures that I have taken of them all the time. And  I give them to them. I’ve never sold a single picture that someone has asked for. I consider it part of the gift culture to give them the image. If someone wants something other than a digital file, I might charge them what it costs me to make a print, but nothing more.)

But offering to sell images that no one has requested is, to my mind, different. But still, is this a service that the community would appreciate? Would it be good to be able to get great images from the desert without having to trash your own photographic equipment in the process? Maybe so.

I would love to see greater and deeper collaboration between artists and photographers. There are lots of creative things to be done. Burning Man IS a great place to take pictures. And making great images, be they literal or interpretive, is the kind of artistic endeavor that Burning Man seeks to promote.

I also would love to see the curation, appreciation and dissemination of Burning Man images a truly interactive activity in the Burning Man community. Again, I think there are many creative things that could be done. Looking at the Burning Man site, it’s evident that a herculean amount of work has already been done to review, sort and post images from the desert. I’d love to see the power of the community brought into the process as well.

And finally (for now anyway!),  there was a proposal to make the Critical Tits ride a “camera-free” or “camera-optional” event. What if participants wore kerchiefs that indicated their preference? In other words, if I’m wearing a kerchief around my neck, it’s fine to take my picture. No kerchief? No picture.

Maybe that parade will be the testing lab for image-making policies for the whole event. I could see the kerchiefs catching on throughout the week.

I’m a photographer, so of course I’d hate to see the prevailing condition be that Burning Man is a camera-free event unless you are wearing a kerchief that says it’s ok to take my picture. (I mean, think of how they might clash with costumes!)

But the people will decide how they want it to be, and that’s the way it should be.

About the author: John Curley

John Curley has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 he spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. John is a longtime newspaper person and spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he was a deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since leaving the Chronicle in 2007, he was a contributing editor on Blue Planet Run, a book about the world's water crisis, and for the past two years has been a lecturer at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. He has also started an event and editorial photography business, and is also working on a book about the "Ten Dollar Doc" from Arco, Idaho, which will make a lovely film someday.

81 thoughts on “Cameras at Burning Man: Policies for the digital age

  • i am in a large part a working photographer because of burning man, and burning man is most definitely one of the greatest places on earth to be a photographer. and while there are plenty of people that do not want their photograph taken and shared, i am willing to bet all my camera gear that the numbers are heavily skewed towards people who love to have their picture taken and delight when they see themselves in some happy, high, funny, beautiful, artful, performing or otherwise memorable moment.

    that said, i am a certain type of photographer. i am a participatory and interactive photographer. i am more often than not totally part of the scene i am photographing. i shoot wide, rather than long, up close and personal. i rarely use a telephoto lens. i love to engage my subjects. i may not always verbally ask permission, but i often do, and unless it is an actual performance, i probably almost always ask with my eyes first. you’d be amazed how much a simple raising of the eyebrows can convey. and it’s hard to miss me, if you are being photographed by me, i am usually standing pretty close to right in front of you. and if you ever say no thanks, shake your head, or even look awkwardly askance when i ask permission or raise my eyebrows at you, i desist immediately. if you ask me to delete a photo, i do so immediately, and will even show you that i have done so to put you at ease. if i ever post a picture and am asked to take it down, i will do so without question. if i have take your photograph and you ask me for a copy, i will do my very best to make that happen, with no thought of payment.

    although i don’t usually use call it “making” photographs, because something about it just sounds too pretentious to me when i do, i actually do prefer it to the idea of “taking” them. photography is a completely collaborative effort. without the subject there would be nothing to photograph. when human subjects are involved, then each picture becomes a relationship, a dance, an agreement, a moment, a little miracle. i cherish each and every click of the shutter, and work hard to make sure that it’s right. for everyone involved.

    i understand that there are many different ways to make, take, get, create, whatever a photograph, and i don’t want to denigrate any other avenues. but if we all just start with compassion and respect, seems like that’s a good place to begin. of course there are plenty of folks who have no concept of being respectful. and i guess that’s the problem.

    but dear god, please, no kerchiefs!

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  • Interesting questions, questions I often ask myself.

    Like Pilar, for me it’s totally a dance with people and a communication either with the eyes, or body or voice. If someone gives any indication that they are not interested then I’m out. I love to play with people with images. The only complaints I’ve gotten have been for not taking/posting peoples photos. I tend to limit my photos to communities I know at Burningman – I might not know everyone in my photos but I almost certainly know some of their friends.

    I’m all for some events at Burningman being camera free or having no camera zones – not sure how this would be implemented. I myself would feel differently knowing a time/event/area was camera free. There are times where I dress up and would love photos and times I just want to be care free and without the being infringed upon by things like cameras.

    I would also love to have more collaboration with artists and photographers. I would love a way for artists to voice that they want some events or people photographed.

    If I ever go back to Burningman I definitely plan to set up some collaborations before I go.

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  • I do agree that this issue needs to be addressed. Maybe mere intention is the gauze in the grey area that we have to use as a guideline. This is a very informative post and Im happy to hear how much you want to consider as many sides to the conundrum as possible.

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  • How are photographs that are sold in a tangible form (prints or books) different from photographs, or access to photographs, sold over the web? I’m not saying the policy is a bad one necessarily, but you need to explain the basis for drawing this line.

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  • In addition to random social media, I think it’s time to open up the possibility of selling prints from Burning Man. Maybe do a 30/70 split between the BMORG and the photographer on proceeds… Obviously a written, sober release would be required in those instances…

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  • I completely agree with much of the sentiments posted above, but I’m sure that what the Organization is trying to protect you from are not the types of respectful photographers such as yourselves and many others. Having worked in the Café for many years, I have, on more than one occasion, tailed the exact opposite type of photographer: using massive telephoto lenses to take photos of unwitting participants, usually topless women, with absolutely no intention of interacting with those being photographed. Sometimes they have camera tags, sometimes not. I’ve confronted them, and usually the responses I get are “oh, I’m registered” or “I’ll be using these for personal use only”, and what am I to do? Say “stay here while I get a Ranger” (not the Ranger’s job per se), “Stay here while I get someone from Media Mecca” (they’ll be long gone), Give them a stern “talking to”? Normally, they just flee me to continue their activities somewhere where nobody will hassle them. I even had one guy pretend that he didn’t speak English, then later I heard him talking to another photographer in perfect English.

    While we all would like to think that the participants at Burning Man are “of the ethos”, there are many who come simply to take, for whatever motivation. I don’t know the answer, but it is good that the Organization is actively trying to craft a policy that can deftly handle both sides of this complex equation. I also understand the role of advocacy groups such as the EFF (which I support), but personally I think their aggressive and inflammatory attitude towards the current camera policy, while technically accurate, misses the point that the policy is trying to address. Burning Man isn’t interested in owning your works. Burning Man is interested in protecting the rights of 40K+ participants. The only point that I give the EFF is the fact that such a policy could set precedent in other less “understanding” environments. Finally, I don’t think Burning Man should get preferential treatment on this issue, because it is an important and far-reaching one, but for the EFF to slam them as such just seems to be painting an inaccurate picture of the situation.

    Enough about the EFF and their role (I’m glad their coverage of this issue has sparked internal discussion). I look forward to the outcome of this process. I know many of the staffers personally and that the issue will be addressed with professionalism, passion, attention to detail, and respect.

    ~Spanky

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  • Remember to register your camera and video/movie making equipment at Playa Info! SLR’s and videocams and yes if your phone makes movies, it too needs to be registered. See you at Playa Info!

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  • I always ask if I can take the pic if the people are doing the whole “pose and smile” bit. Never had anyone say no. I do think that while the BM event is technically a private event that people in the 21st Century have come a bit more accustomed to having pics taken even if they are not technically posing. I run around naked half the time so I certainly don’t care but I suppose I can understand why someone would want what happens on the Playa to stay on the Playa.

    Still if someone were to say no or ask me to delete a picture, I would do it. It comes down to respect really.

    I don’t agree with Mitchell re: selling prints. What’s next? Coffee mugs? If you want to see a great picture at Burning Man, pack a bag, buy a ticket, and get it first hand. The experience is what makes the pic, not the other way around.

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  • My first burn I took a little digital camera. I learned at my first burn that there is no need for cameras. What’s the point in cherishing the moment for eternity on film if you lived it looking through a lens instead of experiencing it the first time? And how can people truly be free to express themselves if they’re worried about having that free expression used against them? That’s my input.

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  • I am not a fan of adding rules to the event so an outright camera ban doesn’t sit well with me. It would also be unenforceable, so what is the point.

    But, imagine a burn with no cameras. Sounds nice to me.

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  • I am apprehensive about any selling of prints, for the reason stated in the article. Plus, there would have to be signed model releases in such cases.

    For me, photographing takes away from my experience. In the time it takes to get my camera out, turn it on, clean off the lens, etc, etc, the beautiful moment may well have passed. Or at least my attention has been diverted away from it and removed me that much from the experience. I understand that for others the photography is an integral part of their experience.

    I do know that the event has changed markedly since digital media, and perhaps not necessarily completely causally therefrom. But many people who would have previously felt empowered to walk around partially or fully nude, or with an erection, or what have you, may very well not nowadays. Nudity is visibly less common than it used to be, and I think that is definitely because people fear repercussions among family, peers or their employers prying about online. I don’t know how it would be implemented though, since I see lots of video being taken from cameras without tags, which is currently supposed to be the standard for video recording.

    I would also ask that we except any camps whose theme specifically uses photography, such as mine, the Genital Portrait Studio. We certainly don’t allow any superfluous photography besides our own to happen on site, without express consent of the participant in any case. Otherwise, I’m totally in favor of at the very least camera-free zones, of which I think the “red light district” should be one. But jeez, no kerchiefs please! Besides being a Borg-style conformity, it could also be misconstrued as the gay fetish signals already in use.

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  • Kind of a “double edge sword”, participants can’t sell photos but the Org can sell calendar and satellite photo posters. If you want to take pictures of the sunrise of sunsets that’s fine with me but lining up by the slip-n-slide is going a little too far. Of course I’m talking about the “terrorist” that show up in their “diesel pushers”. The Org should go with staff photographer and eliminate the whole problem. As participants, we should stand up to those “fools” who can’t live without their cell phones or vacation cameras.

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  • I’ve had my leses pointed at particiants and art for a few years in the desert.

    there are two types of photographers: those tuned into privacy rights (some pro, most amature), and those not tuned in (mainly amature and rogue).

    the rogues will cause their tittie problems and not much can be done to stop them on playa, unless non-camera zones can be established and patrolled.

    pros generally have their act together (I think) and many of them go through privacy “indoctrination”.

    most of the mess comes from amatures in the masses. it’s difficult to bring their attention pre-event or during to the sensitivities of individual privacy (what’s ok to photograph and what’s ok to post online). don’t stop putting the word out! in fact, it’s likely necessary to step it up. how? a bit more info in the JRS? with ticket sales? at the gate? poetic signs on the way in?

    perhaps a “sacred image camp” could organize some of this info dissemination and form an initial monitoring squad for camera free zones or events? (wouldn’t it be nice to magically manifest a publi service camp with a blog post?!)

    I’m interested in how this will develope. facebook and other sites claim dome degree of control over the images posted through them. some of their policies are earning I’ll repute.

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  • Its all down to common sense really… The way i see it is, if i couldn’t show my parents or family a certain picture of me, then i would never post a similar picture of some one else on the internet or any other form of media. I’d keep the private pictures private. I’d hope that everyone who attends the burning man would be of this opinion and respect other peoples privacy. Its all about the art for me and being a first timer myself this year, its a privilage i’ll cherish.

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  • I comply with the paperwork that the collective asks of me now. I am always respectful of asking fellow burners permission, give my card, get what info I can and send them a copy. and I never sell my prints. I have encountered a couple of “no Thank you’s” and I respected those wishes.

    The experience is key whist there, but my images I bring back help me relive the experience and make me smile. this will be more important in later years.

    my 2 cents

    Stech

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  • x-posted from FB:

    Burning Man needs to respect Burners quaint ideas about the Sanctity of Privacy just as much as its attendees, (such as Sergey Brin and Larry Page), do.

    Set strict filters, just like Page & Brin’s Google Images page does, and you’ll be just fine.

    BTW, the horses have already left the barn, but ya’ll may feel quite free to close the door now.

    Out of curiosity, is the US National Park Service, BLM, land that Teh Playa resides on Privat Property?

    If it’s Public Land, during the time of the event, then, more likely than not, these rules apply:

    http://www.krages.com/ThePhotographersRight.pdf

    Please, if you haven’t already, read that through, (it’s only a page in length), as a good starting point for this conversation.

    I believe it also refers to the US Constitution as its basis point, so I’d suggest having a look at the relevant passages it cites therein the US Constitution for further data points with which to work with, so that we can all have an informed and pleasant discussion on the topic.

    Thanks!

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  • I think that there should be 5 simple rules:
    1) Do not sell the pictures for money.
    2) Do not post them on porn sites, or give them to those whom you suspect might do so.
    3) If someone appears to be hiding or trying to run away from your camera, do not pursue, chase, harass, or wheedle them.
    4) If someone asks after they’ve noticed you’ve taken their picture to delete that photo, do.
    5) Do not take pictures of someone doing something you would not want to be caught doing in a photograph publishable to Facebook, MySpace, etc.

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  • Of course, to add to this conundrum, many of the best photos of people are taken when they do not notice the camera. Either the photographer has been following the subject through the whole wedding (to use on scenario) and they just don’t notice it anymore, or the photographer was catching subjects completely unaware.

    Does the photographer need to eventually resolve this? Of course. Although that is not always possible.

    Take the example photos in this blog posting: did John Curley really ask people in the crowd during the burn if he could take photos of them? Usually the crowd sweeps people away before you could get the answer, provided they even heard you ask.

    We eventually get down to a situation where MOST people want to discover a photo of themselves during the burn on Flickr, but because a few don’t photographers should not be taking them and/or sharing them.

    Privacy almost always benefits the individual at the expense of society. True, that sounds harsh, but it’s always been an unavoidable fact. Not telling your high-rise tenant neighbors that you have bedbugs so you can sell the price for a higher value benefits you through privacy, at the expense of the neighbors and buyer.

    But there are lines. Collectives can only allow a minority or individual so much protection and then they force a compromise for the benefit of the collective. Photography policy at Burning Man is exactly this border and I wish the Org luck in drawing the right squiggly line across this territory of rights, privileges and responsibilities.

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  • Photographers serve an important role in a temporary community.

    There were fewer but still a lot of cameras at Burning Man in the 1990s. Its a good thing too. Who would even know what Burning Man was with out them? Do you think you’d be selling 20,000+ tickets without that record out there publicizing the event? Yes, Burning Man is a business, embrace it.

    Before digital cameras, I pretty much sacrificed an expensive Nikon body each time I want along with the cost of film and processing. People were genuinely grateful that I was there shooting and I was never hassled.

    Today having a camera has become a bit of a curse out there. If you are a pure documentary photographer, you have to sacrifice your art and ask for permission which kills the moment you were trying to capture most of the time. Once you make that step the person often goes in to “pose mode” it starts to feel like work for a professional. (I’m a portrait artist by trade.)

    I have chosen to deal with the change in attitudes towards by camera by exploring other avenues of expression at the event. Its a shame.

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  • Let me put it another way.

    As far as Rights & Privileges go on Teh Playa, Personal Attitudes, Feelings, Thoughts & Opinions are one thing, but I believe that we must Follow & Obey The Law, as The Law is currently set within the United States of America.

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  • Burning Man’s beauty is in fleeting nature. I love the event, because unlike so many other things in our lives, it is filled with urgency, immediacy, and passion. When it is gone, we should have our memories and gifts and nothing more. A photograph doesn’t do a single portion of the event justice. No book I’ve ever read and no video I’ve seen does. Media fails miserably to capture the energy, no matter how good the capturer. Burning Man on film is a butterfly with pins in its wings. Stopping on the way to an installation to snap a photo of something cool removes our participation and turns us into tourists. Any rules that are set forth, any guidelines to proper photography and individuals rights will be upheld by the people who take these sacred rights into consideration as it is. What’s left are the weekenders and the perverts (the bad kind, don’t misconstrue) who come to get wasted, get off, and get the fuck out with no real contribution or participation.

    Just my 2 cents.

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  • I’m a photographer and 99.9% of the time being such is a great experience and has led me to meet many many fun people at Burning Man.

    This year, as in every year I have been to BRC I will again exercise my annual boycott of the Critical Tits Parade. I encourage other photographers to do the same.

    The time or two I have inadvertently seen the parade from the wings I have felt embarrassed for the idiots I have seen running toward it with their cameras.

    I mean they’re tits. So what. There is only one pair of tits I want to look at and she wouldn’t ride in the parade so why would I want to go!

    Most of the pictures I take that feature people are people I know or people I have met there that I have asked or have asked me to take pictures of. I make an effort to avoid shooting people I have had no interaction with.

    Yes it’s a privilege to take someone’s picture at Burning Man and it very well should be respected. But I also feel it’s also a privilege to have me take your picture. So there.

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  • Instead of kerchiefs, how about offer burners two types of wrist bands to symbolize preferences:
    >Bright yellow for “photography accepted”.
    >Bright orange for “not accepted”.

    Make it clear at the gates that a wrist band will give no excuse for photographers to not photograph the ‘unwilling’, and that a wristband is their legal protection in any lawsuits.

    If wristbands aren’t found on Burners, those Burners must accept that photographers will expect them to not care.

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  • This sounds a lot like cussing at the tide. Attempting to ban cameras from the event is like the TSA banning airline terrorism: getting vigilant will really irritate the people who abide by a ban, and won’t do a thing to prevent a determined person from bringing in a camera. The resource dedication to this effort would create massive lines at the gates and be costly.

    Between Canon and Motorola pithos is open and BM isn’t going to be able to close it. Digital images will be taken at the event and brought home. Some will be for public consumption, and others for private consumption.

    I think there are a couple of ways to go:

    1. A complete ban on photography whereby anyone caught with a camera has the camera confiscated and is ejected (might be hard to legally enforce). This means no media whatsoever .. none .. zero .. no permits, nothing. No cameras, no excuses. It’s in the spirit of the event, but leaves us culturally poorer for the effort.

    2. All media image rights belong to Burning Man. This is to say that BM, with the ticket price, licenses everyone as a photographer, and that with entry to the event the participant cedes all rights to any captured images to BM. Thus, any picture taken at BM belongs to BM. BM also provides limited rights to the picture takers to archive the images in a specified manner (your lawyers can handle this). Thus, you can go after any picture you don’t want published for any reason on the grounds that you own copyright. This would also allow you to track violators, and ban them from the event. And commercial photographers would just have to suck it up. Don’t like it? Go make your own BM event!

    3. Complete anarchy: Everyone does whatever they want and everyone stops freaking out about the cameras. I think this one would actually work out best since I think it would promote the use of masks that could get quite exciting. It also takes away the stress of having to deal with camera permits and enforcement.

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  • I have never posted a picture of some one else on the internet or any other form of media, and I ALWAYS ask permission before taking a picture. I believe that is just respect. I’m not a professional photographer my pictures are for me to remember and relive the experience. The only pictures I share are of the art. The idea of not having to worry is nice, but on the other hand I enjoy being asked to have my picture taken every once in awhile. A camera free BM…..maybe, either way I don’t go for the pictures!!

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  • The default should be to opt out. How do you get people to comfortably opt in, and still have it compatible with the environment and costume? (Hmmm…maybe my next costume will be a blurred or pixelated one.)

    I’m a more-than-casual photographer who can participate and photograph and chew gum at the same time. I don’t see through a viewfinder, but my images help me to remember and re-experience the event.

    I’ve learned to simply ask people if I can take their photo. Most are very pleased, and I then offer to send them the image afterward. (Many comment that they don’t have good photos of themselves in the costumes that they put so much thought and effort into.) When they get the image months later, so many are grateful for the gift from a random guy on the playa. Some images are posed, and some are of them doing what they do. In the cases where people decline, I fully respect that.

    While I have usually asked people in the default world if it’s OK, my BMan experiences have driven me to almost always ask. As a result, I’ve also had great conversations with people all over the world that I might not have otherwise met.

    Crowds are a hard problem. I always respect any requests to take down any images when requested, although most requests I’ve gotten are for a high-res copy of the photo from the people in them.

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  • Many photographers (mostly pros) ask their subjects to sign release forms granting them permission to publish (on print or online) any photograph in which they are identifiable; perhaps this could be encouraged on the playa as well. Having said that, I brought a camera on my first burn but soon stopped carrying it around as I soon felt like a slave to it and thus more like an observer than the event participant I wanted to be.

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  • I also think there is a difference between people who like their picture being taken, and people who like their picture being taken but don’t like it being posted all over the internet. I love having my picture taken, but I don’t like all the friends of friends of friends of MY friends seeing those pictures.
    it’s a privacy issue, and having my picture taken shouldn’t mean the photographer should automatically have permission to whatever the hell they want with it (even if it’s technically “theirs” now).

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  • To measure whether or not this is even a real issue we should examine how many adverse consequences have occured. This question should be placed on this years Census form.
    I suspect this number is virtually nil. Think about it. With 50,000 people there are proably over ten million pics taken each year. The odds of a random person finding a random picture posted somewhere is close to impossible.

    As a professional photographer I support the idea of not allowing pictures to be sold. It will make people feel safer. The reality is there really isn’t a market out there for them anyhow. With the millions of pics already floating around I have no idea who would ever purchase them.

    Below are links on how I show my work post Burning Man. I always have permision to show my pics. For pictures that may be a bit more racy I put those in private books for my subject to view.

    http://www.facebook.com/#!/album.php?aid=2035499&id=1320002741

    http://www.facebook.com/#!/album.php?aid=2035243&id=1320002741

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  • Simple rule: Don’t take anyone’s picture without first asking.

    Rebuttal: What does that really mean?

    Response to rebuttal: Take pictures being mindful of doing ones best to ask anybody that may wind up being recognizable in the image. Before publishing those picture anywhere or in any form, make sure that no one that did not give permission to be photographed is not recognizable n the image’s published form. This may require cropping, distorting, or reducing the resolution and/or size of the image.

    All cameras should require a tag that requires agreeing to the fair policy. Perhaps people can volunteer to be untagged camera confiscators. Confiscators have ID & namecard that can be given to confiscatee, who can then reclaim camera at Confiscated Camera Camp if they agree to fair policy and get the tag for their camera.

    As far as artists that find Burning Man a awesomely beautiful event to photograph, they know the truth, but that truth gives them no right to profit from their art created at Burning Man. Any proceeds should go to Burning Man or Black Rock Arts. The art made at Burning Man is free to be viewed. That should also apply to photographic art created at Burning Man.

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  • As a participant in a number of collaborative artist groups, I find the current photography policy restrictive for the artists. It seems incongruous that an artist can construct their work, bring it to burning man, take pictures of their own work while there, then when we get home, we’re required to request permission from the organization to use our own pictures of our own works to present or promote them.

    I would also agree that it’d be objectionable to have others profiting from photographs of the work I helped create without any benefit to the group that created it. I also have respect some participants desire for privacy while attending the event.

    There has got to be a better way to handle photographs by and of artists.

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  • This is crap. What about freedom of speech. We should be able to photograph anything anytime in the same way people have the right to freedom of speech. The Burning Man event is in a public place and no law can suddenly decide it is a private venue and people entering any event in a premises other than a household must realise they may be photographed.

    I don’t see protests being made at the amount of police survilenance in streets. You cannot move from your home to work without being photographed or videoed by traffic light cameras, traffic video cameras, bank machine cameras, shop survillance, police survilleance and a huge other variety. The average person in the US is photographed or videoed 10 times a day.

    And what’s the difference between being topless on a beach or topless in a desert. People who do that don’t care so why would they care about appearing on a web site.

    This is privacy gone mad. The simple way is to write on the ticket that photography may be taking place and by entering you waive away your rights. It’s called the opt-out clause.

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  • It’s hilarious to watch the flaming ultra-liberals in this venue struggle with rights, privacy, etc. On one hand they proclaim the BM event the freest place on earth, while on the other that very freedom has caused huge concerns in the explosion of our freedoms to photograph everywhere. BM officials erroneously stated on their website that all photos are their property. Now that they learned the reality of copyright issues which are very complex in a free and not-so-free society, and that they cannot claim ownership of anyone elses property, their free bastion that includes nudity has now raised more issues of privacy and concepts of bureaucratic control.

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  • How about having every participant sign a note of understanding that they may be photographed, looked at, judged, or *gasp* take personal responsibilty for their actions while in the house of the Burning Man to whom they have paid for admission and who will not be held responsible for their intoxication, promiscuity, lack of clothing, contraction of disease, enlightenment, enjoyment, bad trip, et.al.

    The cameras won’t go away no matter WHAT the policy is: that rocket left the playa years ago.

    The whole concept of Burning Man being identified with Big Brother signals the possible collapse of the concept, the extigushing of the flame, the end of days.

    Shit. I may just have to go to Las Vegas to get a what happens here stays here guarantee.

    OR

    I can carry on as I want to: in the spirit of radical self expression and the hell with what city hall thinks.

    I shall be a gonzo participant.

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  • I am an artist and a writer. Any pictures and voice recordings that I take will be used in the context of my work. Yes, I am working on a book based on my experiences at Burning Man. I NEED PICTURES!!
    I understand the concerns however I don’t believe that the worse intent of a photographer should be assumed. You simple don’t know if that that photographer is about to create trash or a great work of art.

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  • RADICAL SELF EXPRESSION:

    If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the desert. If you walk around naked, then OWN IT. If you are ashamed of your body to be seen in the default world through photographs, then don’t walk around naked on the playa. It’s that simple.
    If the women who participate in Critical Tits aren’t willing to bare their breasts in front of the world and stand up proud, then DON’T JOIN IN THE RIDE.

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  • Photography can be art, so why stop it? More rules, playa police, saw a lot of folks being busted last year, it’s going over the top…. Now “camera police”, give me a break. I have taken pictures at Burningman for the past 9 years for myself and friends to enjoy. If with all the great art, the fire, the explosions, the fantastic forms of dress, the last thing I need is a nude, tits or a dick shot, most feel this way. Me on the playa without my camera, I’d actually be pissed enough by an additional rule, that I might pass on the event. In the last 9 years, the only nude I too a picture of, is the fellow, in his late 60s, with the unbrella, do slow motion moves for the last 5 years or so. If folks are so self important that they think there should be a ban, they are pathetic. Do these folks really think, with all that is there, which can change form to personal art through photography, think they are that important to those of us with cameras, ego or pathetic. I totally love riding my bike and capturing great art, tits, dick, naw

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  • Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
    He went flying down the river in his boat
    with his video camera to his eye, making
    a moving picture of the moving river
    upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
    toward the end of his vacation. He showed
    his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
    preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
    the sky, the light, the bow of the rushing boat
    behind which he stood with his camera
    preserving his vacation even as he was having it
    so that after he had it he would still
    have it. It would be there. With a flick
    of a switch, there it would be. But he
    would not be in it. He would never be in it.

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  • At Burning Man, as in other places, I don’t wear/do anything in public that I wouldn’t want ending up on the internet. Cameras are everywhere. Not everyone has respect. And instead of trying to force the external world to comply with my wishes, I take care of my own stuff.

    It’s like the old story about the monk who sets out barefoot on a great journey. He stops soon, because his feet hurt from the hard ground. He is puzzling out how to lay a carpet of leather ahead of him on the path to soothe his feet and ease his way. A more-senior monk comes by and suggests that he, instead, wrap the leather around his feet.

    Take responsibility for your own life.

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  • While these concerns regarding photo/video/nudity/commercialization have been around for the past 15 or so years, I think most would agree that adding *more* rules is akin to trying to force a cultural situation. The experiment of a self emerging and mostly self governing week long culture has to have its pros and cons. Trying to restrict behavior any further than it already is can only stoke the fire of rebellion and in the end create a more dangerous culture for everyone concerned. Technology is going to continue to make it easier to record moments digitally. BR citizens are not always going to be able to ask first before pushing a button on a gadget. Asking everyone to wear wristbands, handkerchiefs, clothing, etc. goes against the spirit of the whole event.

    Lets all worry about problems only as we find them…versus creating new problems for ourselves.

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  • Burning Man is supposed to be about “free radical self expression” and frat boys running around taking pictures of titties could be construed as radical self expression. Personally I’ve always found the policy of “ask before you take” annoying at best and an intrusive invasion of my privacy at worst. If you’ve ever worn an over the top costume while trying to have an intimate private conversation at the cafe you know what I mean.

    The issue is not one of the proliferation of images due to the advances in digital media but rather a very small percentage of BRC citizens who object (for whatever reason, their right) to having their pictures taken and/or those pictures ending up on some website without their permission. For that small minority I would suggest the following:

    1) Wear a mask or otherwise disguise yourself
    2) Don’t do/wear whatever you are concerned about becoming public
    3) Stay home

    If BMorg feels the need to try to control this issue then I have a simple solution. Make available at the ticket gate bright orange wristbands for those who don’t want their pictures taken. It can be explained at the gate that if you have concerns about images of you wear a wristband – and if you are taking pictures don’t take pictures of someone wearing one without their express permission.

    As for commercial use, if you can show that someone is profiting from images of you without your express written permission they are a target for a lawsuit. Exercise your rights!

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  • Are we making any distinction here between the right to privacy vs. a (misguided?) expectation of anonymity? Is Burning Man considered a “private” event?

    Even outside of the context of Burning Man, you hear a lot of public outcry about violation of privacy rights in public spaces. e.g. The guy who sues because his “privacy” is violated when his ass appears on the jumbotron at a football game while he moons the opposing team. If you attend an event in a public venue, your expectations of “privacy” are somewhat curtailed and in this digital age, our ability to remain _anonymous_ in a large crowd is ever declining.

    I’m not saying that there is no responsibility on the part of the photographer. Photographers should exercise good taste and sensitivity. But, is the photographer supposed to read the mind of the topless lady strolling across the playa who happens into the background of a photograph of that guy in the suit made of sock monkeys? I might assume, maybe wrongly, since she’s wandering around topless and isn’t really thinking about it, that I shouldn’t be bothered, either. I know. Callous of me.

    I wouldn’t want to dampen the potential for self expression or encourage people to self-censor… some of the best photographs come from capturing people in a “natural” uninhibited state. But be aware of the context you are putting yourself in. If you think that you may be uncomfortable later when your appearance at Burning Man becomes a topic of conversation, you should consider learning how to have those conversations, or reconsider how comfortable you are with your presentation at Burning Man…

    The issue isn’t just a problem at Burning Man. People get public pictures of themselves behaving oddly at Mardi Gras events, Spring Break, and Coachella all the time. I’m sure the man who can’t put on his flip-flops is gonna love having that on YouTube five years from now.

    It’s great that Burning Man provides an escape for some people from the harsh “realities” (as we make them) of the Mainstream culture. But we do live in an era where technology makes the pictorial dissemination of our alternative activities more likely. We hope for some anonymity… “please don’t tag me on facebook”… but let’s not confuse remaining anonymous with privacy.

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  • In 1994 when I first went to Burning Man there were plenty of cameras and photos taken, but there weren’t people running around telling Burners what rules should be followed in our anarchist community.

    In 1997, the BMORG created streets and told people to park cars to maintain the safety of participants and many said this would change the spirit of the event. I disagreed because I thought that you could have some rules we could all agree upon to protect safety, but if the organizers mostly stayed out of the way of trying to ‘direct’ the event, and really focus rules for areas that really were necessary for safety, then the event could continue with its anarchist spirit mostly intact.

    This effort to “protect privacy rights” on the playa is starting to sound a little-too much like the ‘default-world’ and not like Burning Man to me. I think this move is too patronizing for our community and I don’t support it.

    If someone walks around naked at Burning Man, they are taking a chance. That was the same chance back in 1990’s as it is today.

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  • I have never fully liked the “Burning Man pwns yer pixtures” policy. I like that they are benevolent, but not that they are dictators.

    My solution: everyone is a participant, therefore everyone is a performer. Performances are automatically copyrighted by the performer unless stated otherwise. As such, the rights of a photographer are the same as for photographing any performance. If you take a picture at a play or a musical performance, you can share with your friends, but you can’t profit from those images without permission, nor can you claim that your photograph is the primary (or solitary) artistic expression in the image.

    The existing Burning Man legal team can assist people in defending their copyrighted performance.

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  • By the way, there were fewer people back in the 1990’s (2000 people in ’94). The likelihood of having your picture taken and used inappropriately back then may have actually been higher because there were so few people.

    This issue really is not that much different today then it was back then, except that we are talking about it more now and creating protocols for how to take pictures respectfully, which is a great thing.

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  • And the issue is respecting each other, including the desire to let what happens in the desert stay there.

    I left BRC my first year with a burning (pun intended) desire to bring the wonderful things that were happening in the desert back to the Default World. People who want to come to BRC and then leave without bringing anything back just don’t make sense to me.

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  • I especially don’t like people making money off of photographs of other people’s art without their permission. I went to an art show and saw someone selling prints of the Temple of Hope, which I helped build, for a nice chunk of change. This person did not have my permission and probably did not have Mark Grieve’s permission either.

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  • This remains a complex issue. I do hope that people will not assume that the EFF is not aware of the competing issues here. There are several at EFF who are longtime burners. Myself and fellow board member John Gilmore have been active contributors on the playa since the 90s. We really do understand why there is the temptation to use copyright law to protect privacy, and we spend a lot of our time working on privacy issues. The main thrust of EFF’s complaint over the Burning Man terms has not been an objection to trying to fight for privacy, but rather a disquiet with using some very dangerous tools to do it. These are not tools we want the bad guys to use, but they are also not tools we want our good friends using. We don’t think the ends justify the precedent set by the means. We say this because as I hope you know, we have a lot of experience in dealing with efforts to use copyright law to control people and their speech, and so we’ve learned a lot about what’s safe and what’s dangerous.

    Yes, the motto may be safety third, but in truth there are many people on the playa who know a lot more about playing with fire than I do; but our lawyers have learned a lot about playing with legal fire in the copyright and speech space and their message is worth paying attention. BMOrg may have good motives, but the principles could burn other people.

    That said, there are the practical issues that people have brought up. No set of rules will stop photography, or it showing up on web sites. The effort needed to enforce such rules would involve techniques that would be repugnant to a community devoted to radical free expression. Free expression is not defended because it never does harm. It is defended because trying to stop it always causes much more harm than it ever could.

    Could I really ask permission of everybody in this photo: http://pic.templetons.com/cgi-bin/imget?f=brad/pano/burning/bright-temple.jpg

    Obviously not. Yet to toot my own horn, so may burners have told me how much they like such photos, and I think it’s fair to say they don’t wish this sort of creation to be forbidden from the playa. I even have group photos of the critical tits ride where I could not get permission but gotten positive notes from the ride organizers. There will never be agreement about this. The longtime community members who are photographers would follow new rules, presumably, but the very people the rules want to stop would be the ones disregarding them.

    BRC is a unique place, and yes, its isolation from the world helps it to be more free than the default world. Most of the world’s cities have no ownership of their names, no control over photography within their borders, and frankly very little ill comes of it. As much as the desire to create a sense of safety may call to us, there are some tools a free expression devoted community can’t use to serve that valuable goal.

    Finally, a couple of legal notes: In general (though BRC is arguably not a public space) you do not need a model release to take a photo of somebody and publish it, even for money. Many photographers seek such releases to be on the safe side, and there is certainly no harm in having them. You start needing a release if you are going to use the photo as something else. For example, if you wanted to put it in an advertisement, thus implying an association between the subjects of the photo and the advertiser’s product, you will need permission. Selling the photography is legal, it’s other commercial exploitation that runs a risk. This can be different within a private space, which is the doctrine that BMOrg tries to use in this situation.

    (This can apply to more than people. For example, you also would be at risk using a photo of somebody’s artwork in an ad, and there can be visual copyrights in an artwork which could block some general uses of photos if the artwork is in a private space, though journalism tends to get an exception to such restrictions.)

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  • as an avid shooter of still and video, i still say cameras at BM is a privlige. not a right. i support a full ban on cameras, since there always will be dorks that subvert good intentions. barring that:

    if i made the rules…

    you may take a camera to BM provided you agree:

    1. you agree (by contract) to pay $1000 to everyone you disrespect by taking, publishing, transmitting, ect. their likeness or form. forever. ( if i see my photo on your blog, website, ect., you owe me, and bmorg helps me collect.)

    2. if BMORG can trace the photo back to its owner, that person is forever banned from BM as part of the problem.

    3. if you disrespect someone with your camera, the disrespected is entilted to seize your camera, by any means at their disposal. right then and there.

    4. cameras and their owners have no rights. you are not participant if you are behind a lens.

    5. the only safe thing to photograph is non-human art. all else is at your peril.

    6. proven disrespectors are ejected and banned.

    burning man is my home. act respectful or leave.

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  • > You can only buy two things at Burning Man: coffee and ice. I don’t think there is any desire to add pictures to that list.

    this is true inside the perimeter during the event. but outside the perimeter, there are a number of “burning man things” that can be bought. for example you can buy photo-books with wonderful photos of art and people taken at the event.

    why shouldn’t you be able to buy a poster of that one iconic photo that you want on your wall?

    of course if you are a talented photographer and lucky to be at the right place at the right time, you can take that photo yourself. but not everyone would be happy with just the photos they take themselves.

    a lot of burners have asked me if they could buy some prints and posters of my photos. most of those people who asked me are “burners”, and they would be glad to support a fellow artists-photographer by buying a print, but cannot pay $300 for it. there are now ways to make quality prints available online with companies like zenfolio, smugmug etc.

    all that sounds good except that BM does not permit photographers to sell their BM prints this way.

    selling some prints at a very reasonable price is a way for some full-time photographers to live from their art. some photographers (like me) are trying to be full-time artists (photography is a form of visual art), and denying those artists to make a living from their art is not very cool.

    for photographers, there is currently only two options to sell prints from photos taken at BM: either make a photo book, or make archival, gallery-type signed framed prints that you sell $300 or more (BM is usually OK with that).

    but selling the exact same print online for $30 (e.g. on smugmug) is not permitted by BM (even if they have the model release).

    note that i give free prints and hi-res files to all my models and to the artists who’s art is on the photos, and i allow artists to sell prints of my photos of their arts for fundraising, so i think i give back a lot to the community. and all my photos can be viewed “for free” on the internet, of course.

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  • BTW, there are 13 things you can officially buy on the playa, not 2. (And I am counting ice as one and all the different drinks at the cafe as two. There are 11 others. And of course a number of other things you can unofficially buy :-)

    But no, this is not the forum for you to guess, so please don’t post your lists, and don’t feel bad if you can’t fill out the list, because most of the BM staffers I have quizzed have been unable to list them all. After you give up, you can go to my web site templetons (.com) and go to URL /brad/burn/buyonplaya.html — I did not embed the URL as that makes the comment go into moderation limbo.

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  • So, I want to point out that for a lot of us parents who go to the burn, it is the one time of the year where we can break away from being the responsible adults we have to be at home and cut loose. This becomes our one big thing to look forward to all year. When we go, and take lots of great pictures, those pictures serve as a way to remind us of home. Sure, I share a lot of them on facebook or wherever, but its a way to express to my friends how much I love the place, not to try and show off some titties I came across. I agree that selling shots from the burn should be closely guarded, but for those of us who need this, and need a reminder throughout the rest of the year, the pictures really matter. Please dont take that away!

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  • I think that looking at all of the avenues when it comes to taking photographs is important. The photography is an art in itself that should be able to be freely expressed with those that appear in the shutter. I think that permission should always be the number one priority before snapping that shot. And as so many other people commenting say, it is a body language that you learn to read while you are out there experiencing Burning Man. If that language says no, then you respect that person’s wish to not be photographed. I must say, in all the years that I have gone, I have never had one person say no. Maybe it’s all in how you inquire.
    For now, please don’t take away this wonderful gift that we are given. And for the Man’s sake, don’t make me cover my neck with a kerchief! It really accentuates my breasts!

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  • Just a reminder, this came up last year after EFF decided to blast Burning Man for a policy that an EFF lawyer created for them (Ah, memory. So short!)

    http://blog.burningman.com/photosvideosmedia/snatching-digital-rights-or-protecting-our-culture-burning-man-and-the-eff/

    In short, Burning Man attempts to pro-actively protect privacy rights for participants by declaring that all photos/video taken during the event is copyright BM. For years, this worked well against mass media exploitation, instead of having to react to broaches of privacy.

    And while everyone cites Critical Tits, nudity or behavior as the reasons that people don’t want to be photographed, some people just plain NEVER WANT TO BE IN A PHOTO. You can’t tell who these people are when they are walking behind your subject, or they are in a crowd watching an aerial performer, or they are in Center Camp…

    Question: does someone’s right to privacy extend far enough to command that all people wear blindfolds rather than look at them?

    Obviously there are lines. But Burning Man recognizes that two different individual freedoms are head-to-head in conflict. The right to make photographic art (or just memories) vs. the right to not have your photo taken. The factors are numerous: degree of intrusion, degree of responsible action to be taken, number of people impacted on each side, the “value loss” by an individual if their freedom is completely removed.

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  • And sadly, we’ve been pussy-footing around one of the factors of this issue: the key issue is a sexist issue.

    The “worst case” scenario is usually a girl that was photographed topless/nude and that picture is used by the photographer for (presumed or actual) prurient interests. Something in the range of tongue-lolling ogling to commercializing the media in a Girls Gone Wild format.

    Other people can join the side of the exploited girl saying that he/she does not want her photo taken as well, but the onerous of trust is placed on the photographer to ask first and somehow not look/sound/act like an exploiter. And from what I have seen, men are the only ones confronted if they fail this test.

    I’m pretty sure that Cameragirl on the BMorg staff only asks about 25% of her subjects if she can snap shots. Has she ever been confronted when she doesn’t?

    I would say that the number of participants that want to take photos for personal or commercial exploitation is far lower than the number of people that refused to be photographed. And it is assumed that they are male. Yet the damage they can do to an individual is much greater than what they suffer when someone says “no”.

    I don’t have much of a point here, let alone a solution. But I wanted to add a point of view that I think people are “talking around” to this conversation.

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  • Oh yeah, one more thing.

    People that have ever seen a Burning Man documentary should make sure that they are counted if it comes to a vote on whether to ban cameras at the event. Feel free to vote hypocritically, but be aware that your own enjoyment in the future is like to suffer.

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  • We used to go skinny dipping at Fly Hot Springs before Burning Man grew so large. I had video and photos taken of me at Fly Hot Springs. No one asked because this was before people started making an effort at Burning Man to ask about whether you felt comfortable having your picture taken.

    And I didn’t think of skinny dipping at the hot springs as radical free expression. It was just a kind of natural thing to do there. And then we would all come back from the hot springs and walk around naked sometimes because it started to feel natural to have no clothes on the Playa sometimes.

    Now, if you march in critical dicks or ride in critical tits, you know that you are not just taking a skinny dip in a hot spring – now, most people are quite conscious that the event is ‘radical expression’ that it is noticed and photographed.

    We can’t control what people are going to do with their pictures off the Playa. But anyone who decides to participate in critical tits/dicks should do so with the consciousness that radical free expression is not only expressed, but is also received. Just like dancing with fire, walking naked down the Playa is a kind of risk. You should know what risk you are taking and take your own precautions that make you feel comfortable doing it.

    And banning a camera to me would feel like banning nudity – preventing the expression of one person to avoid offending another. Not an enlightened policy in my mind.

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  • I’m happy with the BMORG’s restrictions on photography mostly because it makes people think first before, say, trying to profit from pictures or video of topless/naked women. And really, that’s the only thing we’re talking about here. I know, as a 41 year old dude, that nobody is interested in paying to see my skinny ass naked, and so the times I do walk around with little or no clothing, I do so with confidence that images of me will not show up online. If the restrictions make it more likely that women can feel the same sense of freedom, than I’m all for them.

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  • Last year was my first burning man ever. I was afraid to even take mybig expensive cameras out of the safety of their bags in the car. Our camp had a pro photographer so I have pics. As a pure participant/non photographer thinking of my second year, the one thing I want to change is BRING MY LITTLE DIGITAL CAMERA!!!! Burning Man to me is about light and color and beauty the very things camera were designed for. Without cameras I would have never even known about burning man. As far as the whole naked issue, as a nude participant myself, I guess I would have to say 2 things. 1-The reality of our world these days is that EVERYTHING you do or say can and will be photographed and probably end up on the internet. 2-isn’t the whole point of self expression to work on breaking down those barriers that “society” has instituted? If you are willing to be naked in front of 40k then why not the world?

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  • I think the answer is PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. Pictures are going to be taken. I want to take more pictures this year. Last year we only took pictures within our campsite because I did not know the rules and thought any Burning Man pictures outside of my camp would end in a law suit.
    If you are a naked schoolteacher then it is up to you to protect yourself. Wear a pink afro and a mask, KISS facepaint, goggles, etc… It is more in the mood and SPIRIT of Burning Man anyway.
    It is our family’s feeling that original sin wasn’t eating the apple it was BLAME. Adam blamed Eve. Eve Blamed the Snake. So now naked people blame the photographer. Instead Make Yourself Comfortable with being Photographed, however you have to. Drop your inhibitions at the greeter gate and tell your students, “Yes, thats me. So what.” or, improving your costumes, but lets bring on the cameras Without Restriction! This is one of the greatest art forms that BM has to offer.

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  • As a photographer (not a professional one) I do 3 things:
    * Ask permission
    * When I shoot “less than fully clothed” people, I shoot from angles not showing their faces.
    * Appropriately set permissions on websites such as flikr.

    To the people saying the cat’s out of the bag: you’re right. Small cameras are here to stay.

    To the people saying, “If you can’t handle the consequences of being naked, don’t.” You’re wrong. We don’t normally walk around naked in public, because it’s not culturally accepted. I walk around naked in my house, because I know my wife won’t post nekkid pics of me. I enjoy being able to walk around in rediculous outfits (or nothing at all) at burning man. At the same time, I don’t want those images to get back to my coworkers or customers that weren’t there. That would be a “career limiting move”. I don’t want to be at burning man in formal business attire. It would be no fun if everyone did that, and acted accordingly.

    And I’m sure some will say– while I can’t see her face, I can recognise the woman with the sun/moon tattoo on her bum. That’s true. But only her intimates and other burners will recognise her. Her schoolmates, coworkers, and customers will not. So she shouldn’t have anything to fear from my photography.

    Having “opt in” bracelets or other jewelry might be a great option.

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  • As one of the organizers of the Critical Tits ride, this is an issue that I have thought about a lot. We get many strident complaints every year about the number of men photographing the event. We feel somewhat at a loss about what to do since we don’t get to control the behavior of the spectators of the ride.

    A part of me agrees that every woman needs to take care of herself – wear a wig, paint your face, or don’t ride if the consequences of being photographed could be devastating to you.

    However, until you have actually ridden that gauntlet of thousands of cameras pointed at your naked body, I don’t know if you can understand how vulnerable that can make you feel. There are 2 parts to the problem. The first is all those faceless people pointing cameras at you and how that makes you feel in the moment.

    There are also legitimate concerns about who in the default world might see those pictures. (A friend who is a lawyer was surprised to find herself topless on a Facebook page.) The policy of “Ask First” seems to go out the window at Critical Tits. I realize it is hard to ask permission of someone who is riding past. However, then it seems to me the default should be not to take any pictures…

    I would like to thank those people that don’t bring their cameras to Critical Tits. We appreciate the men who to come to enjoy and support us in the moment without having to take a little bit of us home.

    Finally, I really like the idea of having a camera free day on the playa. It would be an interesting experiment to see if that changed the feel of the day.

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  • This is such a touchy point. As a photographer, I love to capture the moment in a still image. However, I agree that there should be permission by the person(people) that are being photographed before you use their image. As far as pictures of the installations go, I feel they are free game. If the Artists involved in the installation wish to make money later by selling photographs of it, more power to them. If someone else does it better, more power to them. Art is meant to be shared. How can you be mad at someone who makes money off of taking pictures of the installations? Perhaps this will start a movement where Sculptors and Artists realize the power of a still image and incorporate that into their overall plan of an installation.
    I do like the idea of a camera free day on the play as well and agree that it would be an interesting experiment. And isn’t that part of what Burning Man is about?

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  • Like many many photographers I don’t “snap vacation photos” at Burning Man, I make art. If the phrase “taking photos” were banned from discussion, and the the phrase “making art” were used in it’s place, I think the discussion on photography may be very different.

    Photographing BM has important historical significance. Imagine the black civil rights movement, women’s suffrage movement, Viet Nam war, the summer of love, Woodstock, the first man walking on the moon, gay rights struggle, the punk rock movement, or even the current BM oil disaster without photos to tell the story. Think of the rich heritage those photos leave behind. A visit to the library of congress online digital prints collection will help people understand the importance and power of the photograph in documenting our life and history. I would hate to see Burning Man left out of the story of our nation and the world. It was actually the wealth of BM photography which inspired me to participate in the event, and it is my photography that is inspiring my friends, family and community to continue the BM spirit and tradition of radical self expression in Black Rock City and New York.

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  • Re “tims” on June 5:

    I’ll reiterate my point as I think it’s a facet you (and many other photographers) seemed to miss.

    At Burning Man, everyone is a participant and therefore a performer. Since a performance, like any work of art, is automatically copyrighted by the performer (unless stated otherwise) the rights of a photographer are the same as for photographing any performance.

    All Burning Man photos are a manifestation of someone’s art (be it performance or physical). Without the artists and performers, the photograph would not have anywhere near the same value (i.e. a photo of blank Black Rock Desert which may be valuable unto itself, but it is radically different than one with Burning Man). So to claim that you are creating original art is specious: you are creating a _derivative work_.

    Any art created by photography derived from another’s work must get permission from the copyright holders before being displayed or sold. In the case of physical art this is (typically) the artist(s), and in the case of a performance, it is (typically) the performer.

    And remember: _everyone_ is performing at Burning Man from the time they enter to the time they leave.

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  • Re Jason:

    You are not completely correct. Copyright only begins when a work is fixed in a “tangible” medium. Fashion and clothing have long lacked any form of copyright protection in the corporate world as well. Thus dances or performances are not inherently copyrighted or indeed copyright-able. When it comes to body painting, sculpture, or other fixed forms of expression, copyright does begin at fixation.

    The permission you speak of regarding performers is actually in regards to a civil expectation of privacy. However by legal default, in a public area there is no expectation of privacy, and this has been upheld many times in court. There is another right that then comes into play here: the right of publicity. This right is what allows someone to control the commercial use of their likeness, and is where model releases galore come in to play.

    In between privacy and publicity is a donut hole where an amateur artist can create and distribute their art non-commercially without impeding on the actual legal rights of those in their art.

    As well, I notice a specific disconnect between photography and paintings or sculpture done at the event. BM takes the copyright for photos taken, but not for paintings or sculpture. What basis is there for this disconnect? A skilled painter can create a stunning likeness of a nude and then take it home, digitize it, and put it online. Such a rights grab doesn’t hurt those who don’t care about the rights of their subjects, but it does make it less likely that the artistic photographer will forgo his art or even the event because he wouldn’t be able to call the photographs his own…

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  • Personally I love taking pictures and having mine taken. It is a great way to revisit the event throughout the year and I love being able to see other’s pictures of things that I did not find the time to see or even know was going on.

    That being said that the biggest privacy issue to me in regards to pictures or video would be that dealing with nudity. Although I have not gone nude yet, I would like the ability to feel free enough to do so without worrying about pictures being posted that could later come up and hurt my professional reputation. I could care less what pictures are posted if I’m in any costume or other setting. On the playa I am able to express myself with like minded individuals, but many people in the default world do not feel this way.

    For the guy who talked about big brother taking pictures of us all the time, well they dont post those pictures online.
    Someone talked about wearing a mask if you’re nude and don’t want photos, but wearing a mask is not going to prevent someone from being identified if they have tattoos.
    Another person posted about this being a public event and if you’re nude in public its fair game, but we pay for tickets to the event which should allow us some form of privacy.

    I understand where someone nude could be in the background of a picture you took, and I’m not at all against nudity in photographs, but if the picture is going to be posted somewhere on the internet or in print that the nudity should be blurred out. Restricting nudity in pictures posted publicly might help to keep the looky-loos from coming to the event. I mean how many guys go to Mardi Gras just for the chance to see a bunch of naked girls?

    So to sum up, I think taking any pictures should be allowed, including nudity, just restrict pictures where nudity is involved from being publicly posted or blur out the nudity if they are.

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  • I think it’s a basic common sense issue. I take lots of pictures on the Playa and cherish them. I love the other-worldliness of these shots when they pop up on my screen saver. I have shots of me, my friends, strangers – clothed, costumed and naked to various degrees. If anyone ever asked me to delete the shot or not to take it I would totally respect their wishes. The issue that seems to be in confusion is what happens to these pics once home. I agree with the person earlier, if I wouldn’t show them to my parents or young children, I certainly wouldn’t post them on line. I agree that the BMORG needs staff photographers. They would be certified to take the official pics of the event and those should only be sold for fund raising purposes. Books are great, but aren’t those people profiting off the Playa? it is a fine line. Books help disseminate the art and alure of the event, but no book or picture can ever fully capture the magick of the moment. And while to some stepping behind the camera takes away from being fully immersed in the moment, for others capturing that moment for later is a big part of the enjoyment. I do treasure my BM pics. I totally disagree with anyone who wants to commercially sell prints from the Playa in galleries on line or in brick and mortar. This is a non-commercial event. So to profit from it seems highly unethical to me. And the whole issue of Playa pics ending up on titie sites is really lame. These people should be somehow identified and logged, and then escorted off the Playa if found shooting tities for profit again. I have shot pics at Critical Tits. They are wonderful images of the divine feminine en masse. These pics are private amusements that my girlfriend (she gives me shit for not shooting critical dicks when she forgot her camera, and she’s probably right) and I both love a lot of these bites of Playa culture, but I leave them out of my on-line scrapbooks. And that’s the way it should be… in my most humble opinion.

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  • Re: Munge, June 7,

    Thanks. I haven’t heard back from anyone on my idea about performance and copyright and your mention of “tangible medium” helps.

    It makes me wonder how an improv comedy show is protected. Generally theaters prevent the use of recording equipment — what are the legal ramifications of that? Is there any protection at all? (aside from, say, a scripted play for which there is a tangible medium, at least for the script.)

    Curiously, would tattoos be copyrighted by the artist? Or body paint? Or makeup? Or costumes?

    I think it would help if photographers knew what they were taking pictures of. It’s definitely different from taking pictures of a crowd in Times Square. I’m just trying to figure out how to articulate it.

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  • The Photo Policy at http://www.burningman.com/press/pressRandR.html needs work.

    #1 – The Policy is not easy to find, so most people will never have read it. The URL looks like it just applies to Press, as it expressly did in prior years, but now it applies to everyone who takes photos. Putting language on the back of the ticket is just a “gotcha” and probably not enforceable anyway.

    #2 – The policy expressly requires registration of every camera capable of taking movies. I can’t remember the last time I saw a digital camera that was not capable of taking movies, so that rule essentially requires every digital camera to be registered. I’ll bet the number of digital cameras is about equal to the total number of participants (since some people take more than one). Is the media center really set up to register 40,000 cameras? Can they seriously imagine that more than a tiny fraction of participants will comply with this? It is a bad idea to set up rules that are mostly unknown and ignored. Really.

    I don’t understand the purpose of registering and tagging cameras anyway. If I register my camera, take a picture that violates every rule, and post it on a screen at Times Square … who is helped by my having registered my camera? Do you imagine you’ll be able to trace the billboard back to my camera registration?

    Since most people have cameras, do we really want almost everyone to have to register at BRC? Maybe that’s not a bad idea — to require registration of every person who attends … but do we really want that? Sooner or later the list becomes public (leak or litigation), and isn’t that an invasion of privacy akin to the invasions of privacy from having pictures taken?

    #3 — The policy is inconsistent. It says “All video cameras and film cameras must be tagged.” So, a film camera that cannot take videos still must be tagged, but it doesn’t have to be registered??? And, digital cameras get treated differently than film cameras? How does anyone get it tagged without it being registered? And, the policy now suggests notifying a Ranger every time you see someone using a non-tagged camera. If many people start doing this for all cameras (e.g. treating digital cameras as still cameras), we’re going to need a lot more Rangers.

    #4 — The policy mixes “should” and “must”, suggesting that the “should”s are mere requests. E.g., “… You must ask permission before … photographing … performances and obtain signed … release(s) from all appropriate parties before using them commercially.
    * You should ask for permission before photographing or filming any participant. ”

    The policy page then further undercuts the “should” about asking permission by saying, of participants’ rights, “You have the right and reponsibility (sic) to ask someone to stop taking a picture of you, recording your image or recording your voice in any way if you desire. However, keep in mind the nature of radical self-expression, capturing expression is a form of self-expression.” I read this to say that, even if you ask someone to stop taking your picture, they don’t have to. However, the policy says that photographers “… have the responsibility to be respectful to people you wish to record and to seek permission from them before recording their likeness or voice.” Evidently, that is also “should” and not a “must”.

    Some people rely on the shoulds to suggest that those are actually enforceable rules. See, e.g., http://www.criticaltits.com/faq.html , stating that everyone must get permission before taking anyone’s picture in the CT parade. Really?? Nobody expects that for any other parade. It would create a very dangerous situation to have photographers wandering into the parade to ask participants to be allowed to take pictures. So, the ambiguity in the rule invites people to participate in CT thinking they are protected by a rule against photographing them, but in fact all the participants should anticipate that they will be photographed many times.

    #5 — The policy is absurd in saying that every person should be asked before taking their picture. This is acknowledged on the Photo Guide page at http://www.burningman.com/press/photo_guide.html . (“Does this (policy) mean you can’t grab a shot of somebody cruising by on a really cool bike, or capture a compelling scene you happen to see through your telephoto lens? No, of course not – realistically, you should ask first whenever realistically possible.”) Nobody engaged in public performance or parades can expect not to have a pictures taken (unless the performance announces “Photos are prohibited” so everyone can hear it. Clearly, most of them welcome and expect photography, and would not want participants jumping up on the stage or in the middle of the parade to ask them for permission. Also, it would be impossible to ask people for permission for many pictures. Try taking a picture of the base of The Man, or the Temple, without any people in them. If I take a picture of a performer in Center Camp, I could never get permission from everyone standing in the background.

    Of course, criticizing rules is easier than fixing them. Personally, I’d like some rules that everyone attending Burning Man is legally bound to comply with, even if that meant everyone had to sign a form while being hugged and told “Welcome Home”. This might be something like:
    #1 – You must not photograph or make other identifiable recording of any attendee if the person has asked or directed you not to do so.
    #2 — If you take an identifiable picture or other recording of someone without their prior permission, upon their request you must destroy it immediately. (So, yes, if you use film, taking someone’s picture without permission means you may lose the roll.)
    #3 – You must not post on the Internet or otherwise publicly display identifiable photos or other recordings of attendees without written releases.
    #4 – You must not photograph or otherwise record attendees for commercial purposes without first registering with BRCLLC.

    This approach is consistent with radical self-reliance, by empowering people to act on their own to protect their privacy as needed.

    Then, I’d include a lovely statement about the importance of asking prior permission when reasonably possible, consistent with the ethics of Burning Man, because this makes the experience better for everyone.

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  • This is my third burn. MY first burn was in 2008. I brought my digital camera and took pictures of art, art cars and the landscape. I tried not taking pictures of people unless they were an integral but minor element in the background of the photo. I made sure the pictures I took could be shown to my grandmother.

    Last year I again brought my camera and limited my pictures to the above list however I did take pictures of members of our camp while in camp. I felt somewhat uncomfortable taking pictures of people and was cautious of the context. We had a group photo taken with several of our cameras near the end of the event. Because one or two of the people in the picture were not fully clothed, I refrained from posting the group picture on my Facebook page however several members of my camp did post the group picture on their pages. I am glad they did.

    I think one of the issues with Facebook is whether a person’s name is tagged on a photo taken of them and posted on the Photo section of the website. Tagging ones name to the photo opens up a can of worms that is currently making many of us squirm. Especially when we do not know who will be looking at pictures of us and in what context.

    I did tag names of camp mates on my FB page because most of our group likes to see pictures taken of them in a social setting. We had such an amazing burn last year. One friend later untagged her name from pictures I took of her because she was preparing to look for professional work. I am glad she did and I really respect her for doing that. Since then I have done some more soul searching on the whole idea of tagging peoples names on my FB page. I am kind of at a point of not trusting FB like I didn’t when I first signed onto the website. Although I like some of the social aspects and regained connections with old friends thanks to FB, I am not sure if this where we want to head as a society. I prefer interpersonal interactions that occur when the participants are in the same space at the same time.

    I do plan on taking pictures of non human elements this burn, but I think I will ask permission before I take pictures of people if I decide to do so. The downside is that they will pose for the picture and I prefer to take pictures of people being themselves in a positive setting. One option is to take the picture then talk to the person I took the picture of and show them the image. I’ll delete it or save it depending on their wishes and do it in their presence. I would also ask if they would like their name tagged on my FB page. This may be a good discussion point after we all arrive on the playa and get our camp set up.

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  • OMG could we pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease make Critical Tits camera free?!?!

    At our regional we have this event called the Naked Slip n Slide. It is honestly the most beautiful thing I have ever seen! It is completely 100% absolutely not even joking camera free. It is a big deal and everyone respects it. And most of the whole 1200 person playa comes to watch the event even if there are only 100 people slip n sliding. Heidi the Hose girl jumps on the megaphone and says it over and over – NO CAMERAS NO Camera!! she will destroy any camera she finds being used and shove it up your ass without any lube!

    Obviously burning man is way bigger and harder to control than our little field in delaware – so this is probably a memetic pipe dream.
    But i’ll tell you this much – I’ve got amazing knockers that I’d proudly display along side all my BRC sistas if only there weren’t so many photographing creeps along the route!! until it’s camera free my girls are for me and my camp!!

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  • The issue here is not the photography at the event but what is done with it after the event. Photographers need to concern themselves with people’s rights to privacy in the Internet Age. At the same time some Burners need to get over their egos about photos of their person. Lets face it by now there must be over 1trillion images of tits on the internet. One more image will hardly go noticed. I personally did shoot video at Critical Tits a few years back and I will tell you I would never shoot it again…image wise it sucks. It might be a great event to watch but it is horrible to shoot.
    But back to the subject at hand…photographers like taking photos of people. Most Burners like to have their photo taken…overall people are pretty considerate of others people’s space at this event. My would recommend that:
    1. If you take a photo of someone naked don’t post it unless you clearly get permission to do so. Just because someone says you can take their photo does not mean they want it posted…the idea is personal use…the Internet is not personal.
    2. Try to take your photos or video before Saturday. I have found that people get more uptight/irritated/burned out at photographers as the event progresses with Saturdays being the worst.

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  • I wish that I had run into more photographers like the respectful ones above when I was at Burning Man this year. I took my two girls, 6 and 3, and wherever we went, the cameras appeared, and NO ONE asked if they could take a photo of the girls. I had to ask people to ask. I felt that photos were “taken” in the worst sense of the word.

    My girls taught me something about photography this year. Every time a photographer appeared out of nowhere, and I asked him/her to ask the girls before taking a photo, the girls would say “no.” And I could see why. They didn’t know the photographer from Adam. Or Eve. They felt shy and uncertain. I am grateful, very grateful, to those photographers who ended their efforts to take a photo there. I’m not very grateful to the guys who ran off with stolen photos of my girls, nor am I grateful to the artist who took a photo of my girls in front of her art (without asking the girls) and when I objected said, “Well, they’re in my art.” I wish I had said “if they were not in front of your art, would you still be taking that photo?” or “Would you mind asking them to get out of your art before you take the photo?” Does being in front of someone’s art mean you forfeit your right to be asked? I guess it’s obvious that I don’t think so.

    Unless you’ve actually had an interaction with someone, taking their photo is a meaningless transaction. To my mind, photography embodies a lack of participation. It is a pure form of spectatorship. Only it goes beyond the playa to create even more spectators outside the event.

    If people want to see Burning Man, let them go to Burning Man. I would love to be able to trot around Burning Man without worrying about a bunch of soul-less lenses looking at me. It’s not a matter of nudity, it’s a matter of put down the freakin’ camera and participate!

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  • Burning Man is about freedom of expression. People must not feel inhibited by fears of external judgement. [within reason] . Responsible photographers are not a problem but there are far too many people that see the event as a free fire zone. Thoughtless photography and posting will kill some of the spontaneity and joy that make it a magical event. The problem will only get worse with time unless large areas are designated no photography zones.

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  • It is obvious that BMOrg completely ignores photo use because you obviously can’t and never have actually controlled it in the first place and focus on things like not fucking us over every single year with photographers selling their stuff without reporting it to you.

    It’s overly complicated and your system breaks EVERY YEAR and more than ever this year. You have a system that let professionals to be undetected and excuse themselves over and over and over and I could bring in examples: quite a few.

    To reiterate, there are a million things that you need to spend time on – and pretending you’re the photo-cops it does not help. Stop those who sell your images because he is still out there as are plenty of others.

    

Andie Grace, wrote last year:
    “Also – to @MIke Begley – images should not used on commercial websites selling products or services. The use of the words “Burning Man” in certain contexts (descriptions, etc.) may be considered fair use. A good rule of thumb is never in a title, never to drive searches, but a description (“Perfect for Burning Man!”) is allowable. For more info, http://www.burningman.com/press/trademarks.html“



    And Andie: with your statement above, you guys contradict yourself. So many are braking the rules and you let them do and believe in their “innocence” when you do not have the time do do the right search or to enforce your rules.

    It’s all over the internet!

 Not to mention that it’s not up to me to have my face plastered on this Internet, or if someone else buys my face and the photographer does not report it as it happened to me. I leave in Costa Mesa and I found my picture, sold by a BM “pro” to a collector, hanging on their wall. It’s not only about copyright laws, it’s about respecting me and you guys. After five years on the playa, never like 2010 and 2011 I have seen so many photographs sold through different channel with the words” The Burning Man photographer” and I’ve come to terms with this reality and tend only to say my piece to people taking “photos” when they are blatantly taking portraits with or without my permission, and selling them on several sites and through different narrating media. Talk about so many. I’m over it because I know you guys do not care and let these guys go and believing in them because they do such a “good job”.

    Marko

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    • Marko,

      Someone from your IP address keep posting as different people with the same accusation over and over. It’s reaching the level of spam. I really wish you’d refrain as it’s becoming a time suck for our staff, and now you’re cursing at us to boot. I’m posting this for you here because honestly I have no idea which of the email addresses you’re using to post on our blog is actually authentic.

      We have dozens of cases every year regarding image and trademark use, and I can assure you, there are many, many times we have prevailed in going after photographers who break the rules. In my 13 years here I’ve seen hundreds resolved. There is one odd case in front of us right now that I’m having a hard time resolving, it’s true, one you have referenced in several ways in the posts you keep putting up here. This complaint involves a registered photographer who signed a Still Photo Agreement in 2011. He has a lot accusations against him from several dozen people insisting that he’s selling his work and misrepresenting himself and making a fortune selling Burning Man prints underground (which seems like a very difficult way to make a living, but I digress).

      Unfortunately, the accusations turn out to be hard to verify. Not only do they keep coming in from people, including a spate of random celebrities, who speak with the same exact cadence and writing style/use of language, and who mysteriously all keep contacting my direct email address, instead of any publicly solicited press email address; not only is it odd that 20 different people including these celebrities would take an interest and find their way to old blog posts on our site to enter a vague and overwrought complaint about the same photographer I’m being emailed about. The hardest part is that it turns out that almost every one of these complaints are coming from different email addresses being sent from the same small set of IP addresses, day after day for the past month.

      Aside from some random blurry photos of physical prints of the photographer’s work, which doesn’t prove he’s selling them (we know prints exist, but he gave some away in his Kickstarter campaign last year and was approved to do so… we do recognize the shots), and a mocked up receipt that anyone could have made, we do not have any verifiable evidence that the photographer is selling his work outside of the legal arrangement he already has with us. He has been promoting the approved work online in lots of visible ways, but the only source of information about these supposed underground sales all seems to be stemming from one person, a person who, upon research, has a personal conflict with the photographer and seems to be trying to involve Burning Man, our press team, and our professional goodwill in some kind of process of escalating that personal conflict.

      It seems very unlikely that anyone in this world is making a fortune selling his Burning Man work underground without promoting it in any public way, while thousands of other photographers labor in obscurity trying to get anyone anywhere to buy their work. If this guy really is selling his work or his self-published at private events for thousands of dollars and pulling the wool over our eyes, I’m impressed with his ability to do so without a stitch of promotion. He must be one plugged in guy, but unless I see him doing it, it’s one person’s word against another, and one person’s word isn’t really stacking up here. I find it a challenge, personally, to believe any accusation at all when the accuser deems it necessary to invent a few dozen sock puppets and fake email addresses, and contact us with desperate tones on the issue day after day, as though the photographer was committing some kind of heinous crime akin to human murder. Right now I’m waiting for a call back from the photographer, but I expect I will be giving him an apology when he verifies that his ex’s known IP address (which he has, of course) is the one we’ve been hearing from all along.

      I’ll remove this post if you’ll stop spamming our blog and quit contacting our team. Thanks.

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