Mike Garlington was laboring with his nine-person crew under a sky made blood red from the smoke of surrounding fires this week as he worked to install his “Photo Chapel” in Black Rock City.
“It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done,” he said as he hurried from worker to worker, handing up tools, carrying lumber and talking about the structural integrity of his piece.
Garlington is very much a known quantity on the playa, both as an artist and DPW worker. He’s called Photo Mike, or Photo Miguel, and although he is not working DPW this year, he will stay after the event is over to help clean up the highways that are always littered with trash by departing Burners.
Garlington is upbeat and always in motion. During the year, he’s usually up and dawn and working in the studio. His idea notebook is thick to overflowing, and he’s always looking ahead to what comes next.
Last year, he collaborated with famed playa artist Laura Kimpton on the “Ego” project, and even as he watched flames engulf the work, he was already talking about what he wanted to do this year.
“Photo Chapel” is the apex of many of Garlington’s artistic arcs – meticulous photographic printer, conceptual photographer, inventive framer, and DPW pirate. The chapel is the culmination of 14 years of image-making, with many of the photographs created during his annual two months in the desert, working alongside the vivid personalities in the DPW as they set up and take down Burning Man.
One of the trucks that the Fluffers use (Fluffers being he women who visit the various work crews to deliver cool drinks, snacks and smiles) is covered with more Garlington photos made in the desert and mounted on the truck’s exterior. The truck never fails to attract onlookers during the event.
His own van is also covered with his work. He used to do a lot of shooting in remote locations, and the beat-up van was his darkroom on wheels. Although his most familiar photographs are shot with a 4×5 camera and Polaroid Type 55 film, being behind a camera did not come easily to Garlington.