Everyone asks me, “how was your Burn?” as if a single answer would suffice and provide a neat package so we could move on and change the conversation, like two people passing in the hall asking how each other is doing: “Good,” “good,” they say, without even slowing.

Such niceties are in no way sufficient for Burning Man — if you want to ask me how it was, you’ll need to narrow it down to a day, or better yet, perhaps one-half of any given day: then I can give you a “good,” or perhaps a “stellar,” “horrible,” “mind-blowing,” “wretched,” or the like. For I guarantee I could use each of these and many more to accurately summarize my experience this year. But to put it succinctly?

Absolutely fantastic.

Last year was quite wretched indeed for me: I had caught cold just before arriving, was horribly stressed out both with work and a nasty situation where I had to threaten legal action to a (former) friend, and coupled with that I was leaving early (missing the burn itself). The result of which was that I never felt that I had arrived, floating through the event and disappearing like a ghost. I was not pleased with the work I created, and barely had a good time. Clearly, I was doing it wrong. (Some images didn’t suck, however.)

This year, I did it right. I was with my friends in a tight-knit camp with lots of real-estate and know-how, who made food and built shade when I wilted in the sun or disappeared for hours to go shoot. I arrived early, relatively stress-free (as relaxed as anyone who likes to be super-prepared can be pre-burn…) and utterly without incident (thanks, Evan!). I had the support of one member of BM senior staff who lent me space in her trailer and her computer that could grab a wifi connetion (thanks a ton, miss Bex).

Some highlights?

The Wheel of Thwarted Ambition, a metal cage wheel with a wood fire inside that, when spun, showered embers across the night sky. It was a simple concept brilliantly executed.

Taking over for David Best this year, Shrine, and a crew of architects (including TukTuk) built the Temple, Basura Sagrada. It was an extraordinarily beautiful piece, made from over 90% found and recycled materials (hence “Sacred Trash”). You may recognize a similarity to the Tasseograph Trash Tea Temple from last year — it is by the same artist.

Shrine and his clipboard The Temple, Basura Sagrada

The DPW Parade during Saturday’s dust storm was a page out of Mad Max, and a hilariously epic good time with a ton of incredibly intelligent, creative people who love drinking Pabst and whisky while yelling at hippies. That, and they do amazing work in brutal conditions. From the DPW and Man Crew, SF Slim had, in the height of coincidence, set his gear down within the very boundaries of my camp (before anyone from Fandango village had even arrived) after they made him move from his temporary camp under the man (his home while they built it). He was quickly assimilated into the Blight and made a fantastic addition, and it was he who invited me out on the DPW Parade at the last minute: I grabbed my gear and ran. (I have your leather jacket, by the way).

Thursday at dawn at the temple is traditionally the White Procession, a solemn gathering of folk all in white to greet the new day at a sacred place. Anastazia (Bad Unkl Sista) had informed me she intended to do a performance; I was there and lo and behold, she did appear with a beautiful, dark and heavy butoh piece. However, I’m certainly one to appreciate irony, so when I spied a group of Pabst-swilling, song-singin’, Confederate flag wavin’ rednecks, and saw they were the White Trash Procession, I couldn’t help but laugh and split my shooting and attention between Anastazia and serious and the white trash and ridiculous. I don’t believe either detracted from the other; in fact, I think each helped emphasize and accentuate due to the extreme contrast (had they been actively interrupting, there would have been trouble). They were not fifty feet apart. It was definitely my day’s moment of zen.

Watching Farktronix (Sugar Shot!) and Evan (“Little Person”) with my friend Star channel Laurel and Hardy and take over the Red Eye Diner Tuesday night because no one was manning it and, apparently, the diner’s neighbors wanted grilled cheese. Little did they know what they were getting themselves into. The best part? A line of forty people out front who had no idea we were in no way affiliated with the diner. (To anyone from Red Eye who reads this: perhaps it’ll explain where all your cheese went…). Who wants a fuckin’ sugar shot?

Finally, showing up to the Dust City Diner late one night, and not fifteen seconds after stepping up to the bar, Kendra — one of the waitresses — calls out, “Is anyone here a photographer? We need a photo taken” and having my (rather large) camera being set down on the counter met with cheers. (It’s not often us photographers get cheered — ours is a background kind of work, appreciated (sometimes) much later). It was serendipitously awesome.

There are an infinite number of vignettes not told here, many good, some bad — for it wouldn’t be Burning Man without them, sometimes minutes apart. Am I glad to be out of the dust, heat, and wind? Yup. (I like showering at least daily, thankyouverymuch). Am I glad to have my life back for a while, all my spare time not eaten with a thousand projects and massive logistical undertakings, preparing for the apocalypse? Good lord, absolutely. Am I looking forward to next year? Damned right I am (though my camera may not be — see below. Thanks for Martin for the photo).

Pre-Exodus, Burning Man 2008

If you haven’t already, see my entire gallery here — 344 out of 3,116 photos (that’s 38GB, folk). You may feel free to blog my images (give credit as “Mr. Nightshade, theblight.net”) and link back to the gallery; I’d also be happy to sell you a print, or license for publication — contact me and we’ll work something out.